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Nora Frederickson, AFL-CIO Media fellow, sends us this profile of the Oregon Young Emerging Labor Leaders program.

One week, Oregon’s young workers might be speaking out on the radio. Or they might be dishing up food at a Portland homeless shelter. They might be learning about labor history through the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center. Or they might be biking 18 miles in Portland’s only wintertime bicycle ride.

Through the Young Emerging Labor Leaders (YELL), a new group sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon’s young workers are getting a chance to foster new pride in holding a union card and are redefining what it means to be a union member. In October 2009, the Oregon AFL-CIO Convention unanimously passed a resolution calling for a young worker program and adding a seat to the General Board for a young representative. In early 2010, the group developed a monthly social calendar and began planning their first-ever convention for August 2010.

The idea for the group came after a group of Oregon’s young workers attended a national conference in June 2010, sponsored by the AFL-CIO as part of a new national outreach program to educate young workers about unions and give them more of a voice within the labor movement. YELL is one of a growing number of union-based outreach programs for young workers, including AFSCME’s national Next Wave program, the Futures Program sponsored by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Baltimore’s Young Trade Unionists and Young Workers United in California. [Join YELL on Facebook here.]

At the Oregon convention, more than 40 union members from 14 different affiliate unions traded ideas on the group’s structure and purpose. Nick Gaitaud, a millwright with United Steelworkers (USW) 7150 in Albany, was elected at the convention to represent YELL and continued to ask for input following the convention as he and other organizers laid down an agenda.

I asked people why they wanted to become involved in YELL. And it wasn’t so that we could go phone bank or lobby, even though those things are important. People wanted to be better-informed and wanted to make their union better. They were interested in training and wanted to be a part of their community. They wanted to network—a lot of young workers don’t get the opportunity to network.

Following the convention, YELL quickly got to work. The group hosts a monthly social at a bar in Portland, joined the Labor 2010 phone bank and has sponsored members to attend classes at the university’s Labor Education and Research Center to deepen their knowledge of the union movement.

In the future, the group hopes to provide more opportunities for young workers to learn about the union movement and educate their local communities about unions. Current projects include a job-shadowing program to connect union members with members of Oregon’s Executive Board and organizing a union careers day with local Boy Scout troops.

There are so many workers who you don’t know are union. I’d like people to realize that these are people who live in our community.

Gaitaud encourages other young members interested in bringing young workers together to get plenty of input before determining a group’s goals.

Rather than asking them to spend an hour a month at the union hall or phone-banking, connect them with their interests.

In addition, “time and money really are the biggest thing” to getting a group together.

I can’t ask anyone to go and phone bank unless I’m going to be there. And a lot of the time you will need money to hold an event. The easiest thing to do is to look for free events, and to make connections in your community, like we’re doing with the Boy Scouts.

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