AFL-CIO ‘Next Up’ Young Workers Summit

More than 400 young workers converged on Washington, D.C. for the first-ever “Next Up AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit.”

The 18- to 35-year-olds engaged in a three-day dialogue with the top leaders of the AFL-CIO, including President Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker. Guest speakers included policy experts, labor leaders, student activists, community allies, political comedians and professional athletes.

“Each of you, if you will, look around,” said Trumka in his opening remarks. “Some of you are friends. Many of you have just met. What you see are the faces of change, the future of American labor.  So what will that future be? What will our movement be? It’s up to you. And your answer has everything to do with what our country will be. That’s what we’re talking about at this summit. It truly is a first-of-its-kind. And it’s about time.”

Shuler identified several key areas where the labor movement could improve its appeal to the younger generation. “We need to communicate in new ways – using cutting-edge technology and messages that appeal to younger people,” she said. “We need to open up leadership opportunities and provide more mentoring. We need to do a better job of educating the public about the labor movement—who we are and what we do—especially in the schools. We need to adapt our structure and be more open to organizing unconventional industries.”

Participants took part in a series of workshops and breakout groups focused on topics such as communications, organizing and mobilizing, issues facing this generation and integrating young workers into the union movement.

In breakout group reports at the Summit’s closing, the young people recommended and called for increased mentoring programs to help young union members grow into leadership roles and establishing a national youth mobilization effort as an AFL-CIO priority. They also suggested opening up seats for the Next Up generation on national, state and central local body boards; creating an internship website with information on national, state and local opportunities; and re-branding the union movement to appeal to a wider audience.