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Young workers are turning to unions

Graham Trainor has taken the helm at one of the state’s largest labor groups at a time when workers in Oregon — already a strong union state — appear emboldened, engaging in ambitious bargaining, strikes and demonstrations.

Trainor was elected in September president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, a labor federation representing the interests of about 300,000 private and public sector workers.

A longtime Oregon AFL-CIO staffer, Trainor is described by some as the heir apparent to Tom Chamberlain, a widely respected labor leader who had led the federation since 2005.

At 38, Trainor is noticeably self-assured, but conscious of how he is perceived. He appears somewhat private about the inner workings of the federation, declining through a spokesman to allow a reporter to shadow him at work.

But in a recent interview, he spoke at length in response to questions about his background and current issues facing workers.

Trainor thinks workers, and particularly younger workers, are increasingly turning to the labor movement because they don’t know who else is on their side in the face of growing income inequality, housing costs, and student loan debt.

A national Gallup poll in August showed unions are gaining popular support. Trainor said workers feel left behind despite a booming economy.

“Workers are at a point where they can’t be pushed further,” he said.

Today’s economy, Trainor said, is “more fissured, more precarious, I would argue, than the economy 14 years ago when Tom took over.”

“Young workers have been sold, in many ways, sold a bill of goods that, if they go to college and they rack up all this student debt, they’re going to be able to get out of it in no time and realize the American dream,” Trainor said. “And unfortunately, that’s just not working out for them.”

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