The state's labor movement needs to revitalize itself at the community level and get more labor-friendly candidates elected to office, the new president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO said Wednesday.
Brett Voorhies, president of the Central Indiana Labor Council since 2011 and a political coordinator for the United Steelworkers, was elected by delegates Tuesday during AFL-CIO's state convention in Terre Haute, defeating incumbent Nancy Guyott. He takes over a federation of 800 local unions with 300,000 members across Indiana.
Voorhies said after his election he wants to find new ways to strengthen the AFL-CIO and "grow the voice of working people across this state."
"Right now I feel we're stagnant, we're status quo," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There wasn't a whole lot being done as far as services to our members."
Voorhies said he was approached by others in the federation to run for president, but not necessarily out of dissatisfaction with Guyott, who in 2009 became the first woman elected state AFL-CIO president.
"She did a fabulous job doing policy and legislative work. We have to do a lot more than that," Voorhies said. Besides a strong presence in the statehouse, the AFL-CIO should be active in communities and in service work, he said, along with educating members and others on legislation affecting workers.
The AFL-CIO organized protests during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions in an unsuccessful effort to stop passage of a state "right-to-work" law that bans the collection of mandatory fees for union representation.
That defeat did not lead to his election, Voorhies said.
"It was an uphill battle from the start. The only thing I would have done different is I maybe would have started a little earlier rather than trying to win a battle in the hallways of the statehouse," he said.
Since then, the battle over right-to-work has shifted to the courts. Indiana is appealing a Lake County ruling last September declaring the law unconstitutional. That case was brought by suburban Chicago-based Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which also is fighting the law in federal courts.
While awaiting court rulings, "we have to go out there and mobilize our members" to build union strength, he said. That includes recruiting worker-friendly candidates for the General Assembly.
"It's going to take time, it's going to take a lot of patience," Voorhies said.
A request for an interview with Guyott was left with a union spokesman.