The award, recognizing his efforts of building statewide network of labor and community, presented as part of APRI's 2014 Regional Conference held in Atlantic City.
New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech was presented Saturday, February 22, with the Keeper of the Flame Award by the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI).
Named for the trailblazing African-American labor leader and civil rights activist, the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) is a constituency group of the AFL-CIO, and supports civil rights, affirmative action and pro-labor policies that promote decent wages and labor law reform. The award was presented as part of APRI’s 2014 Regional Conference held in Atlantic City.
“As a leader within our labor movement, it is a tremendous honor to see the work I have championed linked to the legacy of A. Philip Randolph,” said Wowkanech. “Workers rights are civil rights, and building our statewide labor movement into one that looks outside of just unions to embrace and enhance entire communities and neighborhoods has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have undertaken.”
“Under Charlie’s leadership, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO has become a true champion and leader for progressive policies and solutions to the challenges facing our communities and working families,” said Richard Womack, Northeast Regional President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. “We are no longer just a part of a union movement, but a true labor movement that is elevating all workers and working families across New Jersey.”
Wowkanech was recognized for providing the resources necessary to integrate the state’s networks of county and regional Central Labor Councils with different constituency communities, linking the labor movement with community organizations, and civil rights and civil justice groups. He has also diversified the leadership of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, bringing minority and community voices onto the Executive Board.
Under Wowkanech’s leadership, the New Jersey State AFL CIO became a founding partner of Working Families United for New Jersey, Inc., a 256-member coalition group dedicated to improving the lives of working families. That organization led the fight to raise the minimum wage in the Garden State, running the campaign that saw passage of a state Constitutional amendment in November, despite well-financed opposition and a very determined Gov. Chris Christie to block it. That campaign is now being copied across America as “raise the wage” efforts are being launched in states and municipalities from east to west.
Recently, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and its Working Families United for New Jersey, Inc., partners were asked by the state’s legislative leaders to head the effort for passage of a statewide law to guarantee earned sick leave for all workers.
Wowkanech has served as president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO since 1997. Under his leadership, the organization created its Labor Candidates Program that has elected nearly 800 union members – including many minorities – to political office at the state and local level, and which is now a national model for reestablishing the strength of the labor movement in statehouses and town halls nationwide. In addition, his tenure has seen the labor movement successfully establish New Jersey’s second-in-the-nation paid family leave program, the enactment of project labor laws, and expanded card check protections to include public sector workers.
“I am extremely proud that the New Jersey State AFL-CIO is now viewed not merely as an advocate for unions, but an advocate for all of New Jersey’s working families,” said Wowkanech. “A. Philip Randolph knew that the rights of union workers and the rights of regular citizens were permanently linked. It is that legacy that drives the work we undertake today, as a labor movement and as a community partner. To be linked with that legacy through this award is a tremendous honor, but one that speaks to the work of our entire organization, and not just one individual.”