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NC AFL-CIO Convention Brings 3 Days of Solidarity to Wilmington

Jeremy Sprinkle
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For Immediate Release

Oct. 15, 2021 

NC State AFL-CIO’s 64th Annual Convention Brings 3 Days of Solidarity To Wilmington 

The in-person event brought together more than 300 labor union activists and political leaders to educate, mobilize, and get North Carolina union members to say #CountMeIn!

Wilmington, NC – Under a theme of “Count me in to lead, unite, and win,” the NC State AFL-CIO’s 64th Annual Convention met in person this year at the Hotel Ballast in Wilmington, North Carolina from Wednesday, Oct. 13 through 12 p.m. ET on Friday Oct. 15. 

See crowdsourced of the NC AFL-CIO's 64th Annual Convention

The convention brought together more than 300 labor leaders from across North Carolina for three days of speeches, discussions, and workshops to create a better future through organizing, political power, and building solidarity through racial justice. This year’s convention also included the election of NC State AFL-CIO leadership to new 4-year terms and a forum for U.S. Senate candidates to answer tough questions about their commitment to empowering working people.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, strict safety precautions were put into place, including a requirement that face masks be worn indoors at all times throughout the event regardless of vaccination status as well as the strong encouragement of vaccinations and testing for coronavirus prior to arrival. 

Speakers in attendance included: 

  • North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper
  • Rep. Dep Butler, NC House District 18 
  • Dr. Everett Kelley, President, American Federation of Government Employees
  • Clayola Brown, President, A. Philip Randolph Institute & AFL-CIO Civil, Human, & Women's Rights Director 
  • James Andrews, NC State AFL-CIO President Emeritus 

“We are building a more powerful labor movement, a movement that wins victories for working people,” said NC State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan. “And that takes all of us, which is why we're saying ‘Count Me In!’ to fight for racial justice because together we are stronger than the forces who seek to divide us and together is how we win.”

“The labor movement is a powerful force to be reckoned with,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “We are one union. Even though there are 57 different entities, we are one union. Unity is not only practical, it’s moral. Unity means taking care of one another. We are one union, one family, and we are responsible for one another. Unity is hard to achieve but when we have it, we can do great things. Unity is hard to practice, but when we do, we win.” 

“You hear people talking about the Civil Rights Act as if it’s a done deal,” said APRI Director and AFL-CIO Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Director Clayola Brown. “If we sleep on it, we will lose it. The Voting Rights Act, the attack that’s going on right now should make everyone scared. No matter how much comes out of DC, if it doesn’t come from the states, the cities, the people, we will never get to that place of equality that we need in order to grow this labor movement.” 

The ongoing work of the labor federation to reform, reflect upon, and recommit to being actively anti-racist in daily life was front and center throughout the event, which featured a frank discussion with NC State AFL-CIO President Emeritus James Andrews about the challenges he faced becoming the first Black person elected to lead a state labor federation full-time in the United States. Convention delegates and guests also took part in workshops to build solidarity across races, and delegates adopted a resolution confirming their commitment to racial justice.

Convention delegates also re-elected NC State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan to a second 4-year term, as well as new executive board vice presidents. McMillan became the first female president of North Carolina’s labor federation in 2017 and is currently one of twelve women leading state AFL-CIO federations nationwide. 

On Friday, several North Carolina U.S. Senate candidates gathered for a forum on building the state’s labor movement and passing pro-worker legislation. The NC State AFL-CIO invited all 2022 U.S. Senate candidates in North Carolina who raised over $100,000 as of the last Federal Election Commission filing deadline to attend the convention. The following candidates participated in the forum: 

  • Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court 
  • Jeff Jackson, state senator, attorney and Army National Guard member 
  • Erica Smith, former state senator, educator and minister 
  • Rett Newton, Mayor of Beaufort, scientist and veteran. 

One convention highlight each year is the presentation of the “PR Latta Rank-and-File Award” for outstanding service to the labor movement. The award is named after a longtime labor leader with the Communications Workers of America who passed away in 2014 at the age of 95. The award this year went to members of North Carolina I.A.T.S.E. Local Unions, the people who make live entertainment, film, and television possible, for maintaining solidarity throughout the pandemic despite incredible odds.

The convention also celebrated the retirement of the state federation’s longtime attorney, Mike Okun, by bestowing on him the title of General Counsel Emeritus and making him the inaugural recipient of the “James Andrews Lifetime Service Award” in honor of his decades of extraordinary service to the state federation and working families across the state.

Contact: Jeremy Sprinkle, [email protected] or Kalina Newman, [email protected].


The North Carolina State AFL-CIO is the largest association of local unions and union councils in North Carolina, representing over one-hundred and forty-thousand union members, fighting for good jobs, safe workplaces, workers’ rights, consumer protections, and quality public services on behalf of ALL working people.