By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, partners with faith-based and community organizations on issues such as raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, the expansion of Medicaid in Oklahoma, and other issues of social justice that affect working families.
COLF represents affiliated Local Unions in Canadian, Cleveland, Garvin, Grady, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie Counties.
Tim O’Connor, Central OK Labor Federation, President said, “We have 54 Local Union affiliates in central Oklahoma that represent over 16,000 members.”
The Federation’s central focus this year, according to O’Connor, has been to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma.
“A group of community activists decided that we needed a grassroots movement to consider the issue, so OKC Raise the Wage Coalition was formed,” he said.
Last February, COLF and local attorney David Slane filed a petition in Oklahoma City to let voters decide if the minimum wage should be raised from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour for low wage workers.
However, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin made national news when she recently signed a bill prohibiting cities across the state from establishing mandatory minimum wage and employee benefits, including vacation or sick leave days.
O’Connor said, “That’s just another example of her priorities. Instead of discussing the opportunity to have a statewide minimum wage, she spends her efforts signing a bill that prohibits even municipalities from trying to raise wages for their citizens.”
For now, the group is still gathering the 6,200 signatures needed to put the issue on the city’s ballot.
According to a February report by the Congressional Budget Office, nation wide 16.5 million workers would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Supporters say that would help millions of working families, reduce poverty, and stimulate the economy.
This year COLF has focused on many worker issues. It was part of the coalition who rallied to protest the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at their annual meeting held last May in Oklahoma City.
They supported the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 916, which represents workers at Tinker Air Force Base, when they rallied against the sequestration and government shutdown.
They backed the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 458, which includes Oklahoma City’s letter carriers, in their rally against the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to end Saturday mail delivery.
COLF also supports the Letter Carriers Annual Food Drive, which will be on Saturday, May 10 this year.
“We always support the letter carriers and try to mobilize volunteers on that day,” O’Connor said. “Food collected in the Oklahoma City area goes to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, which helps to provide meals for needy families. We’ve been working with them for a lot of years now.”
COLF will hold its Annual Labor & Friends Banquet, themed “Raise the Wage” on Friday, May 30 at The Centre, 4325 N.W. 50 St., in Oklahoma City. The reception begins at 6 p.m. with dinner at 7 p.m.
The keynote speaker for this year is State Representative Scott Inman, Democratic Minority Leader, (D-HD 94).
“Scott has been someone who has earned the support of the Labor Council for his efforts to fight for working families in his House District as well as all of Oklahoma,” said O’Connor.
“At each banquet, we present several awards recognizing volunteers and activists from our affiliated Local Unions, as well as community leaders we consider friends of working families,” O’Connor stated. “This year we will recognize our members who volunteered their services following the May 2013 tornados.”
“We will also recognize Dr. Robin Meyers of Mayflower Congregational Church, with our Friends of Labor award,” O’Connor added.
Meyers is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC), a tenured professor in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University, an author, a syndicated columnist, and an award-winning commentator for National Public Radio.
Meyers said, “In the 1960’s, one of every three American workers belonged to a union. It was, not surprisingly, the best of times for the middle class, the largest and wealthiest in the world.
“Today, only one in eight workers belongs to a union, thanks to policies that undermine union membership to keep wages low and prohibit collective bargaining. Combined with almost no increases in the minimum wage, America has a disappearing middle class, no longer the richest in the world.
“Labor matters because wages matter,” he said. “Wages matter because people matter. People matter because either all of us matter or none of us do.”
Individual banquet tickets are $65 and sponsorships are available. For reservations, call the Central OK Labor Federation at 405-634-4030. For more information, visit ok.aflcio.org/coklf.