Omaha – The William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies conducted its 18th Annual Promoting the General Welfare conference at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center on March 11, 2017. As in the past, this year’s audience was a mix of union members, community activists, as well as students and faculty from UNO and other local colleges and universities. The purpose of the conference is to show the issues critical to organized labor are concerns that impact all who sell their intelligence, experience, and strength to employers to earn a living. It also highlights presenters from across the nation who are closely tied to the labor movement.
This year’s event was unique in that there were four State Senators who addressed the conference: Senators Wishart, Koloski, Vargas, and McDonnell. Each spoke about the different challenges associated with insuring our state government works in ways that protects and empowers all of its inhabitants equally.
United Food and Commercial Workers International Secretary-Treasurer Esther Lopez kicked the event off by speaking about the coming direction of organized labor in her address, The Labor Movement of the Future. Under the principle that labor rights are human rights, Lopez stressed the importance of teaching values and principles that undergird the labor movement for new members. She believed this is critical because an understanding of the role unions played in humanizing the employment relationship is missing from their formal education.
Three workshop leaders, Alison Dickson, Will Attig, and Silvia Favela addressed three topics: Protecting Vulnerable Workers, Unions: A Pathway to the American Dream, and Helping Younger Workers Become Difference Makers, respectively. Each of these workshops explored ways to help everyday wage earners navigate an economy that is unlike the one of just 30 years ago.
The Institute’s director, John Kretzschmar, conducted the closing plenary, Values Bridges and Message Framing. He spoke about how to effectively message with others who may not share your worldview and noted that because of the way the human brain is wired, the truth often fails to set us free. For a message to be heard across worldviews the key is to create a values bridge that establishes the speaker and the listener share some core beliefs. Only after it is established, can facts be accepted.
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