LEAP conference called ‘the best one yet’

Delegates praise organization, planning

DELEGATES ATTENDING THE 2014 LEAP conference at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., April 27-May 1 found much to like about the annual event. A full-slate of quality speakers, a record-setting turn-out for the congressional reception, and the smoothest-running conference in recent memory had many participants describing the conference as “the best one yet.”

In his opening remarks, International President Newton B. Jones declared, “As you know, we are well-served by our LEAP program and by our Government Affairs staff. Our program is one of the longest running, most effective programs of our International union. It is, in my view, the preeminent labor program of outreach to those who make decisions — for better or for worse — about our working lives.”

IP Jones stressed to delegates the need to approach lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill with a sense of urgency, adding, “We have the right and the mandate of our members to speak out in support of what we value, including a fair share of America's opportunity and prosperity. We have the right and the mandate to confront those who would deprive us of what we have worked so hard to build. We have the right and the mandate to fight against those who would take from us the promise of the American Dream.”

For the first time in LEAP history, the Boilermakers presented the Charles W. Jones Award to members of Congress: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY-4th) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA-11th). Both representatives are champions for working people and long-time allies of the Boilermakers union. Both have announced their retirement from Congress at the end of their current terms. Rep. McCarthy, who has been fighting cancer, is the daughter of a Boilermaker and sister of retired Local 5 (New York) BM-ST Tom Cook, who attended the conference to recognize her achievements.

The Boilermakers also honored Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA-1st) with the Abe Breehey Legislator of the Year Award. (See story on Brady in the Jan.-Mar. issue of the Reporter.) Rep. Brady surprised the conference with a mock grand entrance to the “Rocky” theme song, with raised fists and an entourage of Local-13 (Philadelphia) delegates tossing give-aways to the audience. The antics energized the crowd, which responded with laughter and applause.

Seven U.S. representatives addressed the conference, including McCarthy, Miller, and Brady as well as Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3rd), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11th), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19th), and Nick Rahall (D-WV-3rd).

The conference’s keynote speaker, Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist writing for the Washington Post, described the difficult political climate in Washington and discussed the prospects of key issues like immigration reform and the Keystone Pipeline. He said Keystone will likely be held up until after the November mid-term elections, and then, “perhaps rather quickly and quietly, it might just go through.” Robinson also spoke about strategies Democrats should consider to get out the vote if they hope to retain the majority in the Senate.

Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, recalled his epic journey as a young man in Ethiopia who dreamed of coming to America for a better life and went on to become one of America’s top labor leaders. He said that working hard and getting an education historically meant you could advance in America.

“I chased that dream, walked through a desert and several times almost died to come to this country. And I’ll tell you this: this country has been great to me. But is that possible today [to realize the American Dream]? I think those dreams are [getting] away from us. Workers are being attacked right and left by lobbyists and by the anti-worker forces. But that being said, there is no better time to be in the Labor Movement, because we are almost hitting bottom, and when you hit bottom there’s no other place to go but up.”

Other topics addressed during the conference included the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, often referred to as “NAFTA on steroids;” the impact of EPA regulations on the energy industry and Boilermaker jobs; the federal budget and its effect on shipbuilding; immigration reform; the failure of Congress to extend long-term unemployment insurance; congressional gridlock; and the coming mid-term elections in November.

The conference also featured a panel discussion about how to restore good jobs, rebuild the middle class, and solve income inequity in the United States. Bridget Martin, Director of Political Affairs, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Tyler Brown, Executive Director, Industrial Sector Operations; Jim Cooksey, International Rep; and Michael Sargeant, Executive Director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

The 2015 LEAP conference will be held at a new venue, the Washington Hilton hotel, May 17-20. Formal conference meetings will run for two days, rather than three, as has been standard in the past.