Tefere Gebre Departing OC for Land of Glory and Better Ethiopian Restaurants

Tefere Gebre

Many of us will be able to say that we knew Tefere Gebre when.

Washington D.C.’s enormous Ethiopian community is about to get a little larger.  That’s not the main story, of course.  American labor leadership is about to get a little better.  More than a little, most likely.

Tefere Gebre — the first name rhymes with “safari” while the surname almost rhymes with “segue” — has been an acclaimed leader of the OC Labor Federation.  His success here in Orange County — and the fact that, as with any really good leader, “his” success is not merely his own — has not escaped note.  So AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka has decided that the 45-year-old Gebre will be the first-selected leader of a new generation within the nation’s largest union.

The Huffington Post  has this to say:

Arlene Holt Baker, the AFL-CIO’s executive vice president since 2007, told colleagues in a meeting Wednesday that she would be leaving the union federation this year, opening a top executive post ahead of the AFL-CIO’s convention in September.

The personnel change could signify a generational shift in leadership at the country’s largest labor federation. Holt Baker, who started as an organizer of public-sector workers in the 1970s, rose through the ranks of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, eventually becoming the first African-American to serve as executive vice president at the AFL-CIO.

According to a staffer who was in the meeting, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who’s up for reelection at the convention, told colleagues that he would replace Holt Baker on his ticket with Tefere Gebre. Not widely known in D.C. labor circles, Gebre, 45, is an Ethiopian immigrant now serving as executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation in California.

Trumka thanked Holt Baker for her years at the federation, and called Gebre “an authentic voice for a new generation and a great trade unionist,” according to the staffer, who asked to speak anonymously because no official announcement has been made.

This is awfully good news for everyone in the labor movement — with the exception, in some obvious ways, of Orange County.  (And it’s good for OC too; it doesn’t hurt to have personal ties to one of the top leaders in the national labor movement.)  It’s not fair — tempting, but not fair — to begrudge the rest of the country the benefits of his leadership.   And while Gebre leaves enormous shoes to fill — although to give some time to a more critical view, here’s Gabriel San Roman writing about him in these pages in 2010 — begrudging his loss may not even be necessary.  Gebre has developed a capable team of people around him, though — and (presuming that they stay in place) they form the nucleus capable of continuing a strong county Labor Fed.

Tefere’s most recent major appearance on these pages came about a year ago, in my assessment of the primary election results.  Rather famously, he went on a rant against Jose Solorio, whose machinations (along with a million bucks from heavy hitting conservative donors) cost Gebre’s top lieutenant Julio Perez a spot in the AD-69 runoff.  Let’s enjoy it once again:

Orange County Labor Federation Tefere Gebre is not one to hide his opinions — and he was in robust form when expressing them on election night.  Unfortunately, the journalists transcribing them didn’t quite get the nature of his critique.

Gebre was quoted by Andrew Galvin of the Register and Norberto Santana and Adam ElMahrek in the Voice of OC to say:

  • “Jose Solorio is dead to me”
  • Labor would no longer be an “ATM” for Business Caucus-oriented Democrats
  • “We have nothing to do with corporate whores.”
  • “Are we going to recycle the same assholes over and over again?  If that’s the case, then what the [expletive] am I doing here?”

Gebre was widely criticized by moderate democrats who had heard his comments only second- or third-hand for being uncivil.  In fact, those comments were triggered by something pretty specific: Solorio’s use of Michele Martinez to deny the a spot in the runoff to Julio Perez — and at the same time to deny the most Latino district in California the chance to be represented by a Latino Democrat.

Read on at that story to get more analysis of how and why Solorio worked his evil magic in that race — and alienated the most influential parts of the union movement.  Tefere certainly seems to have determined that his opinion was justified in the year since then, so anyone wanting an apology went home empty-handed and now so will those who wanted revenge on his career success.

I may add to this story later with another anecdote or two.  If so, I’ll note the update in comments.

Update Sept. 10, 2013

And there we go!  An hour ago, Tefere Gebre was elected as the new Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.  Photo snagged from the Facebook page of mi amiga Gloria Alvarado.

Photo: Congratulations to Orange County's own Tefere Gebre, for being elected as the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO tonight. We are terribly proud of Tefere's accomplishments as Executive Director of the Oc Labor Federation and cannot wait to see what he will do for the national labor movement!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)