CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The incoming president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO admits 2017 will be a “tough legislative environment” for labor-backed issues like the reinstatement of the prevailing wage.
Josh Sword, though, said he’s looking forward to seeing what Governor-elect Jim Justice can do once in office.
“He wants to create new, good-paying jobs for West Virginians, not concentrate on lowering wages for workers who are already in the workplace here which is what we’ve seen the last two years from the legislative leadership,” Sword said.
“That’s why we’re excited about the new Justice Administration, the fact that he can pick up the phone and get a lot of people to answer his call. That means a lot. That’s a good first step.”
On Jan. 1, Sword officially replaces Kenny Perdue, the retiring president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.
Perdue took over as president in 2004 after seven years in the role of secretary-treasurer and previously served as the organization’s vice president from 1989 to 1997.
Sword has been AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since Jan. 2013.
In the New Year, he’ll lead labor’s efforts at the State Capitol.
The 2017 Regular Legislative Session opens briefly on Jan. 11. After formally choosing leaders, the Legislature will adjourn until Feb. 8 when Justice is expected to have his legislative proposals prepared for introduction.
“It’s a little bit early to be able to get a sense as to what we’re going to be dealing with, but the reality is, if they propose bills that are good for workers, we’re going to be up there supporting them,” Sword said.
“If that’s the case, we’ll be up there supportive of everything they do but, I’ll tell you, if they don’t and it’s a continuation of the same old crap that’s hurting workers and taking away their benefits and making their workplaces less safe, we’re going to be up there ready for battle again.”
Going forward, Sword said he’s hopeful labor can find ways to work with legislative leadership.
“I hope they flip the script, get away from this ‘war on workers’ and go back to trying to pass legislation that produces good jobs with good benefits and a safe workplace,” he said.
Prior to taking the secretary-treasurer’s position with the AFL-CIO, Sword worked for the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia from 1999-2012 as benefits coordinator and then political director.
Sword will fill Perdue’s unexpired term which continues through Oct. 2017 when, he said, he does plan to run for the full term.
“I’m excited. I’m nervous. This is, without question, the greatest professional honor that I’ve encountered,” Sword said. “I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s not like I’m on an island, though. We have a great team.”