Let's Work Together for Change
by Teamsters, Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 06:43:43 AM EST
By Mike Mathis, Teamsters Director of Government Affairs.
When Matt and Chris invited us to join the MyDD community, they warned us about you. They said MyDD readers are a smart and cantankerous bunch who wouldn't pull any punches. They told us to be prepared for anything.
Teamsters are old hands at confrontation - taking on bastard employers or anti-union propagandists - but we are novices at online discussions. Nevertheless, we welcomed the opportunity because we recognize that bloggers and unions are natural allies - we share common goals and derive our strength from the power of many.
For us it was an opportunity to introduce ourselves, to educate and to build relationships. You know, it's not just the number of union members that is shrinking. So is the number of labor reporters. Unless there is a big strike, you never hear about unions in your local media. The national press is not much better, with several news organizations recently axing their labor beats.
Perhaps it's because most media owners - large national corporations or hometown power barons - share the same anti-union views as the owners of the Santa Barbara News-Press. I'm not one to believe in media conspiracies, but this is just one example of how management still controls the message. Fortunately for Santa Barbara citizens the reporters fought back.
Many media outlets even refuse to run union ads. Consolidation of the press and of our airwaves further squeezes out organized labor's message.
And it's a message that is rarely taught in schools. Think back to your high school history course, how much did you learn about the Knights of Labor, Eugene V. Debs, the Haymarket Riot, or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?
If you welcome our message, we welcome your scrutiny.
At a turning point
One year ago, the Teamsters left the AFL-CIO to start a new labor federation, Change to Win, with six other unions that wanted to revitalize the labor movement by focusing more resources on organizing workers.
As Andrew Kersten, author of Labor's Home Front: The American Federation of Labor and World War II and a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, said at the time:
"It sort of mirrors what happened in the 1930s when the labor movement shattered right before a huge upswing in union activity. So it's interesting in that one might expect the labor movement to go either way. Either the schism will break the back of the labor movement or it will result in a terrific upswing, like in the 1930s. But there are a number of historical differences that will influence this one.
"One of the main things is the political environment at the national level. President Franklin Roosevelt made labor unions a cornerstone of his political structure, and President George W. Bush has not. In fact, President Bush has continued in the path of President Ronald Reagan and President George Herbert Walker Bush in sort of dismantling the federal structure to support unions and organizing. That makes this moment a very precarious one for unions. They're not going to get any help this time. Whatever they're going to do, they're going to do on their own.
But we're not alone. If the last five weeks have taught me anything, it's that we have your support.
It also looks like we will have a friendlier House of Representatives, and that Democrats will at the very least close the gap in the Senate. An unpopular president and an unpopular war are big reasons for this change. But a majority of voters are also fed up with an economy that benefits only the richest 2 percent. They are hungry for real change, real security, and we can help.
The Teamsters' agenda
Employee Free Choice Act (S.842; HR1696). To help accomplish our other goals we must first make it easier to organize workers and protect their right to form unions. The Employee Free Choice Act would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards for union representation. It also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes, and authorize stronger penalties for violations of the law when workers seek to form a union.
We are only three sponsors away from a majority in the House, and we've got 42 sponsors in the Senate. See if your representative and senators are sponsors.
Only workers who have a voice, and protection, on the job can stand up to corporate interests more focused on quarterly results than the health and welfare of employees, the safety of communities and the cleanliness of the environment.
Universal health care. This is the central jobs and economic security issue of our era. Winning access to affordable, quality care for everyone in America will have the biggest positive impact on our economic security. The Teamsters and other Change to Win unions have taken the lead in a campaign to unify the broadest number of working people, capture the imagination of the nation, and build a broad coalition to win affordable, quality health care for all.
Fair Trade. The Teamsters Union supports trade that improves working conditions, lifts wages and living standards, and creates job growth in the United States. Unfortunately, the trade agreements that continue to be negotiated use the same NAFTA/CAFTA model that we strongly opposed. The Teamsters will oppose the Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) or any piece of it that is presented to Congress, the Peru FTA, and any other FTA that uses the same failed job-killing model where labor and environmental standards are not enforced, or that undermines important domestic laws and regulations, and perpetuates offshore production.
The Teamsters will remain engaged in the WTO Doha Round negotiations to ensure that workers' standards everywhere are improved. And we will work to address China's unfair currency manipulation, weak labor standards, lack of union representation, sweatshop wages and poor working conditions.
Immigration. The Teamsters Union supports legislation that would permit earned legalization for certain immigrant workers who have been in the United States and contributing to the economy for many years. We support the right of these workers to join a union, and we support efforts to remove the ability of employers to use threats and intimidation of immigrant workers to thwart organizing drives.
We will continue to oppose efforts to expand high tech and other temporary guest-worker visa programs that may not only be unnecessary, but also forces U.S. workers to unfairly compete with lower paid workers who have no rights or benefits.
Rail safety and security. Congress has largely neglected Securing our nation's rails since the September 11th terrorist attacks. Since 2001, the federal government has spent nearly $20 billion on aviation security but only $250 million on rail security and other transit systems. When you consider that passenger rails carry five times the number of passengers as airlines every day, this is a travesty. At the same time, and often on parallel tracks, freight rail carries liquid chlorine, ammonia and other hazardous materials that could kill thousands of people.
Our rails remain wide open to the potential of terrorist attack, as this survey of our members (pdf) indicates.
Safe highways. The Teamsters Union continues to champion safe highways, especially around our ports and borders. The Department of Transportation is currently considering options for opening our border to unregulated Mexican trucks - including a possible pilot program that would allow as many as 100 trucks to venture beyond a current 20-mile border zone.
We oppose this effort and support regulatory action and legislative initiatives that would ensure all U.S. vehicle safety and emissions standards are met before any foreign truck is permitted to access our nation's highways.
The lack of an adequate drug and alcohol testing program, the inability of DOT safety inspectors to have access to Mexican facilities to conduct safety fitness reviews, the fact that hours-of-service and logbook regulations are not enforced, are just some of the vehicle and driver standards that need to be addressed before Mexican trucks should be permitted to travel beyond the current border zones.
In our campaign to organize port truck drivers, we have also found that overweight shipping containers often leave our ports undetected, threatening highway safety and causing irreparable harm to our road and bridge infrastructure.
Drivers transporting containers have little way of knowing if a container is overweight and if they do complain they are often threatened or harassed if they refuse the load. Truck crashes and rollovers due to overweight containers maim and kill. We seek tighter enforcement of maximum vehicle weight restrictions, use of portable scales at port gates for unannounced inspections and expanding law enforcement authority to access weight records and impose strict fines.
Confidential background checks. The recent Port Security bill included provisions for background checks and biometric security cards. Criminal history record checks are a good idea and have become increasingly common for many jobs in security-sensitive areas, including airline employees and drivers of hazardous materials. It is essential that rules requiring these checks include standards for confidentiality, privacy protections, due process procedures -- to allow correction of errors and consideration of mitigating circumstances -- and a list of criminal offenses that truly define a security risk. These would ensure that employers cannot summarily dismiss employees without cause.
Some fear that without union protection many port drivers, many of them immigrants, will park their trucks rather than submit to security checks. This would exacerbate an already extreme shortage of port drivers and could paralyze the flow of goods.
Wage and Labor Standards. Last, but certainly not least, Teamsters oppose legislation and regulations that would effectively eliminate or erode the 40-hour workweek and the right to overtime pay, such as "comp time,""bonus" bill, and "sales incentive" schemes. We also oppose legislation that denies prevailing wage protections to workers involved in transportation, school construction and other infrastructure projects and programs. Teamsters support an increase in the minimum wage; community efforts to establish a living wage; and the expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more workers and family circumstances.
It's a long list. And it would be impossible to complete these objectives overnight. But let's keep the dialog open. Let's discuss how we can work together to achieve our common goals. Let's build coalitions.
With your voices online, your skills at mobilizing public opinion and educating each other on issues the MSM ignore, and our voices in the Capital, statehouses, our ability to mobilize on the ground and in the workplace, change is possible.
Tags: AFTA, background checks, cafta, Change to Win, Education, Employee Free Choice Act, HR1696, immigration, Labor, Media, NAFTA, overtime, Peru, privacy, rail security, S.842, safe highways, safety, standards, Teamsters, trade, Unions, universal health care, wages, WTO (all tags)