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Eric Howard, a painter from Hialea, Fla., knows what it’s like to dream of a better life. Growing up in inner city Miami in a working-class family, Howard worked odd jobs after school and learned from his family how to make do. He painted his first house as a teenager—but it wasn’t until his first painting class at Miami’s local Job Corps program that he decided to make his living as a union painter.

Through a partnership between the Miami Job Corps program and the local Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) union, Howard is now a licensed painter with 15 years of experience under his belt. In addition to running his own jobs, he’s president of his local union, IUPAT Local 365. But the role he’s proudest of is his job as a full-time instructor with Job Corps, where he teaches and mentors young people aspiring to become union painters.

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One week, Oregon’s young workers might be speaking out on the radio. Or they might be dishing up food at a Portland homeless shelter. They might be learning about labor history through the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center. Or they might be biking 18 miles in Portland’s only wintertime bicycle ride.

Through the Young Emerging Labor Leaders (YELL), a new group sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon’s young workers are getting a chance to foster new pride in holding a union card and are redefining what it means to be a union member.

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