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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Union Federation Exec Talks Labor

On November 5, Tefere Gebre, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), visited the University of Massachusetts Boston and talked about labor, immigration, and race in America.

When he was a teenager, Gebre immigrated from Ethiopia to America as a political refugee. He grew up in Los Angeles, and while in college, worked night shifts at UPS, his first union job. He has dedicated his life to the value of hard work and the necessity of having a voice in the workplace, he says. 

After being elected leader of AFL-CIO in 2013, Gebre began emphasizing the expansion of the labor movement in the South, where conditions are more oppressive to workers than other parts of the country. His experience as a refugee and self-declared ‘immigrant before anything else’ informs his outlook on the labor movement. He talked passionately and gave an animated presentation.

Gebre explained the concept of collective bargaining, the process whereby a group of employees negotiate with their employer. He asserted that the work of unions affects all working classes, regardless if an individual is actually involved in a union. 

At the start of the talk, he asked members of the crowd to raise their hands if they simultaneously attend UMass Boston and work. A number of hands were raised and Gebre used this as an opportunity to indicate that labor issues affect the attendees. 

He mentioned that a decline in organized groups and unions leads to a decline in wages for everyone, and that collectively challenging employers can make radical changes for the working class. Gebre stated that America is the richest it has ever been, but has never experienced so much poverty. He cited greed at the heart of “American individualism” as a cause. 

Gebre also said discussion of race is taboo, and that racial injustice continues to create an imbalance in the workforce and in American democracy due to systematic profiling of minorities. This lead to a discussion of the relationship between Black Lives Matter and the AFL-CIO, and a conversation about the staggering statistics of incarcerated Americans, which outnumbers prisoners in Russia and China combined.

Gebre urged the crowd to fix America’s democracy and connect communities to rebuild the country in a way that is inclusive and understanding of workers’ rights.