New labor group forms in valley

MERCED — A new labor organization representing more than 100,000 union members in the San Joaquin Valley was formed Thursday, signaling what may be a higher political profile for unions in the area.

The North Valley Labor Federation is composed of three existing central labor councils, which represent unions in Merced, Mariposa, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, according to Marcie Bayne, the body's executive director.

"We intend to be the political voice for labor in the valley," Bayne said. "The idea is that it's a unification of the labor movement."

The new organization's only full-time employee, Bayne, will take her marching orders from the 43-member executive council, which is made up of representatives from the valley's unions, which include AFL-CIO and Change to Win affiliates — two organizations that haven't always seen eye-to-eye.

The main goals of the new organization will be to get more union members involved in politics, elect more pro-union candidates and unionize more workers.

Politically, this means the federation will support candidates running for positions from school board to the statehouse, and they'll do it with help from their members, said John Stewart, an NVLF executive board member and the president of the Merced-Mariposa Central Labor Council.

"Labor in each election has become more and more involved and aggressive, and it will continue to do so," he said. "We want people who speak for the working class."

The federation intends to conduct more organizing in the valley, Bayne said. "On the grand scale, our hope is that wherever workers want to have a union, we will get a union for them," she said.