Everyone in attendance at American Rights at Work’s eighth annual Awards Celebration on June 20 embraced the inspiring words shared by our speakers and honorees: stay strong and keep up the important fight for workers.
Our own Kimberly Freeman Brown kicked off the program by welcoming a packed house of 350 leaders from the progressive, labor, social justice, and socially responsible employer community and thanking our sponsors and allies for their continued support of American Rights at Work. She also paid tribute to two committed champions of workers’ rights who passed away this spring and whose legacy will continue through our work: Bernard “B” Rapoport, founder of American Income Life Insurance Company, and Mark Ayers, President of the Building and Construction Trades Department.
Former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Fred Feinstein praised American Rights at Work’s efforts to shine a light on the need for reforming federal labor law and presented our “It’s Just a Poster” video that spotlights the overreaction to a simple, commonsense rule from the NLRB that lets workers know their rights.
Feinstein also introduced featured speaker, former NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman. Liebman spoke of the importance of understanding workers’ rights as human rights, invoking the words and spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, for whom our awards are named. Liebman acknowledged that times were tough for those of us who believe that all workers have rights that should not be trampled. But she left us encouraged that through our continued efforts, if we remain together, ready stand up to injustices, we will prevail.
The first Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Awards were then given to Bill Street, Director of IAM’s woodworkers division, and Per-Olof Sjöö, President of GS, the Swedish woodworkers union. Street and Sjöö were the strategic minds behind the successful campaign to win a voice on the job for over 300 workers at an IKEA factory in Danville, Virginia. Per’s acceptance speech reiterated the importance of this campaign – workers and their supporters can stand together across the globe and win dignity at work. In his speech, Street said, “By choosing to grant Per and me this honor on behalf of everyone who worked on this campaign, you have validated what we have proclaimed to the world for the past three years – that union rights are human rights and that IKEA was violating human rights every time it interfered with their workers right to form a union and in their right to bargain for social justice in Danville.”
The evening closed with Ford Field concession worker and UNITE HERE member John Marler presenting an Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice (“De”) Smith. In his rousing remarks, Smith reminded us all how important the fight for workers is – whether on the football field or the factory floor. And he warned us that this fight is far from over: “For everyone out there writing the obituary of organized labor, buckle up! We are here, and we are fighting back.”
If the energy in the room was any indication, DeMaurice Smith got it right. There may be setbacks, but as all of our awardees made clear, there have also been great triumphs. Taking the time to reflect on those victories from the past year recommits us here at American Rights at Work to keep fighting for America’s workers.
Photos copyright American Rights at Work/Liz Roll