Let's Work Together for Change

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)

Comments

25 Comments

Re: Let's Work Together for Change

My great-grandfather Lewis was a union organizer, along with his second cousin John L. Lewis, who created the AFL-CIO.

So, go union!

by judybrowni 2006-10-30 07:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

My father was a part of the UAW...i didn't understand it when i was little but i sure appreciate it now.

by Chavez100 2006-10-30 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

GREAT TO HAVE YOU WITH US!!!!!!!

by Andy Katz 2006-10-30 07:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Big supporter of your safe highways initiative. After the little matter of this election is past, how does someone who is not at present affiliated with a Union get involved?

(NB. I was in the NTEU (Australia), but since I am no longer lecturing in Australia, that has lapsed!)

by BruceMcF 2006-10-30 07:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Blog about it. You can use us or other groups as resources and make it an issue. That's sort of the point of this post. I wanted you to see our issues, what we're working on and sign on to swarming these issues when the time is right. We'll do the same.

by Teamsters 2006-10-30 07:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Great, so that's step one.

Ummm ... when people ask how they can get involved, what do I tell them? "Blog about it" can get circular after a while ... what is the link or email address to hand to people who want to help?

by BruceMcF 2006-10-30 08:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Sorry it took me so long to reply to this, I was having problems logging in yesterday.

We are supporting legislation and defending regulations at the federal level as well as in a number of states and localities, so I can't direct you to one single web site or give you a flier. This is an ongoing battle that never really stops.

We are gearing up for an action directed at the lame duck session. It has to do with a small change in SAFETEA-LU, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. SAFETEA-LU changed a definition of commercial motor vehicle and removed drivers of vehicles 10k lbs or less from the authority of the Secretary of Transportation. Why is this important? Because drivers under the authority of the Secretary are exempt from overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act - even if the secretary has NEVER EXERCISED HIS AUTHORITY.

This change now means that all drivers in this classification MUST receive overtime pay. But there's a chance this arcane rule could be changed back.

Most of our Union drivers already had overtime provisions in their contracts, but nonunion FedEx and other delivery drivers do not have this benefit and must drive as many hours as their bosses tell them. (How many managers are spreading the word about this issue you think?)

Consider the upcoming holiday season, for a minute. Paying time-and-a-half is a powerful incentive for employers to hire an adequate number of drivers and not to keep overworked drivers behind the wheel. This is a safety issue as well as a fairness issue.

Want to act: Call your representatives in Congress and tell them to oppose the "Technical Correction" denying overtime pay to drivers of vehicles weighing 10k lbs or less. The correction was included during the Committee markup of the Senate's FY '07 Transportation Appropriations bill (Sec. 132 of HR 5576).

The Truck Safety Coalition is also working on this.

It was wrong to hide behind the paper authority of the Secretary in denying the right to overtime pay for these drivers, and it is wrong to take it away now.

by Teamsters 2006-10-31 04:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Thanks for that, I'll include the SAFETEA-LU.

Actually, for each of the eight points on that agenda, the Teamsters might consider establishing an online action page, where you can put up action items on how people can help as they come up, whether that is publicizing a local rally, getting the word out on legislation, or whatever. Then it would be straightforward to set it up for people to register an email address so that they get an automatic notification a new action item on the specific issue or issues of special concern to them.

by BruceMcF 2006-10-31 06:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

That's a good idea. I think our web people are working on improving our online activism system and I will definitely pass along your suggestion.

by Teamsters 2006-10-31 06:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

I am a union supporter and believe the union membership is better supported by the Democratic Party.  Having said that, I wonder why the AFL/CIO in Connecticut endorsed all Democratic congressional candidates but sits the fence in the Senate race.  Some individual unions have supported Ned Lamont but overall union support would make a Democratic sweep possible.  What a shame!

by lobo charlie 2006-10-30 07:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

I wonder too.

by Teamsters 2006-10-30 07:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

I admit it, I'm shallow.  My original attraction to the union movement was through music.  I listened to Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie while growing up, and unionism permeated the songs.  Later I discovered Springsteen's portrayal of working folks' problems, and deepened my understanding.

But now I'm an old fuddy-duddy and not plugged in to today's music scene.  Who are the modern bards of the union movement?

by Nina Katarina 2006-10-30 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

I'm a fuddy duddy too, but my hipper colleagues tell me that Billy Bragg and Springsteen are about it.

Which is another sign that unions have been forgotten about in this country. And I refuse to believe that young people are apathetic. The younger generation has pasionately gotten behind Bono's world poverty movement, genocide in Darfur and other global tragedies. I think they simply know very little about unions and the history of unions in America.
 

by Teamsters 2006-10-30 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change
I'd like to know that the union is out there doing something -- a lot/ anything to insure fair elections.
 It looks to a lot of people now like we will win both House and Senate -- or we would win both House and Senate but for the meltdown that is anticipated at the polls.
For some unclear reason, even after the problems in Ohio and South Carolina and many other states in 2004, the Democratic Party was uninterested in taking up the subjects of disenfranchisement at the polls, uncounted votes, long lines, failing voting machines -- the whole ball of wax.  Now the Democratic Party has set up a hotline to report problems.  Well what is a hotline for?  What will they do about reports of voting fraud?
What will they do this time?  In 2004 they said they had thousands of lawyers standing by -- who did nothing.
The time to take some action, at the state level, the county level, the precinct level to police the voting process was over the last two years.  The Democratic Party let the two years slip by -- and now they are setting up a hotline that seems meaningless to me.
Now if I knew that the Union understood this issue and that the Union was there now for us with your concern and your oversight -- that would mean a whole lot to me.  
If broken and fraudulent elections again dictate the future of the country, I want to know that the Union will be with us AFTER the election to take action to clean it up and make it honest again before 2008.
Thank you.
by syolles 2006-10-30 08:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

We do support fair and free elections. We are also advertising a hotline (http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/061030/dcm038.html?.v=68), but it doesn't sound as if you are too impressed with those. We have pressed for action in this area, because it is often our members who are disenfranchised. And we will continue to do so. But we don't make the laws, and we can't enforce them. The only thing we can do is make our members aware of potential problems and have them be our eyes and ears.

by Teamsters 2006-10-30 08:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Welcome to MyDD.

I think unionization is key element of the progressive cause, but throughout much of the country, unions are perceived as corrupt, linked to organized crime and advancing nonsensical work rules.

How can we change this perception so that it is easier for Democrats to openly embrace organized labor?

-- Tentakles

by tentakles 2006-10-30 09:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Education. Stand up for labor instead of repeating corporate America's talking points.

Who's more corrupt? Corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, and every options-backdating boss out there, which have stolen billions from employees and shareholders alike, or unions that started pensions, pushed for social security? Who's more corrupt? corporations who slash or cut retiree health benefits because they must "remain competitive" AND receive a paycheck 431 times more than their average worker, or unions who fought for and achieved the very retiree health benefits employers are stealing?

Who's more corrupt, a Congress that is lavished by lobbyists and special interests at the expense of constituents, or unions who really are fighting for working class families every day?

This is the whole point of this diary. You never hear about how the Teamsters have fought for and won better working conditions, higher wages and better benefits for the workers in your home town factory or truck barn. All you hear about are the negatives.

But you can't indict an entire institution over the actions of a few. Otherwise you'd be indicting Congress, the president, and just about every major corporation in the US.

Unions have become a charicature of corruption because corporations, and I am including the mainstream media here, want it that way. They have every reason to make Americans fear unions, doubt unions, avoid unions, because when they do, workers lose.

It was unions who created the 8 hour day. Before unions 16 hour days were the norm. Union men and their families, bled and died for shorter work hours and better working conditions. Who do you think they were fighting? Corporate America and the U.S. government who called in Army troops to put down insurections. Who prohibited the free speech and peaceful assembly of workers.

It was unions who created the weekend. Again, six-day weeks were the norm.

Before unions there was no minimum wage. Before unions there were no safety standards on the job. Before unions there were no rules on child labor. So you want to talk about nonsensical work rules? Management has a much longer history of nonsensical work rules than unions.

We can change these perceptions by learning about Unions' contributions to this country and telling the union story over and over again.

by Teamsters 2006-10-31 07:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Perhaps you could write a bit about solidarity issues with international labour? After all, workers in China or temporary workers from other parts of the world in the USA are part of our community, aren't they?
by ravi 2006-10-30 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

We are committed to global union solidarity and act on that commitment every day.

Just in the past few days, the Teamsters have intervened on behalf of:


  • Colombian flower workers facing a closing in Colombia

  • Food processing workers facing a union decertification in Guatemala

  • Transport workers in Liberia trying to rebuild their union

  • Frito-Lay employees who are having a tough time getting a contract in South Africa

  • Graphical workers organizing at a Quebecor facility in Peru

  • South Korean workers fighting against a free trade agreement with the United States.


Our strength in the largest market in the world means we must support worker rights struggles elsewhere. Likewise, the challenges to organizing here can be enhanced through the support of unions around the world.

Lots of our employers are multinationals. Unfortunately many of these companies are trying to export `union busting' around the world.

We have a strong and growing network of union alliances across the sectors and companies where Teamsters work.

The South African union FAWU was very helpful to us in resolving a difficult contract negotiation with SABMiller.

We worked closely with Dutch, British and Australian unions representing TNT Logistics workers around the world to insure good contracts when TNT sold their logistics business.

The Transport and General Workers of the UK have been extremely helpful in the joint Teamsters/SEIU organizing drive among school bus drivers of the British-owned company First Student.

The French CGT played a crucial role in resolving a two month strike with Paris-based Arkema.

We are working with a broad international union network to improve labor rights - here and abroad - with the huge Danish shipping company Maersk.

German union leader Rolf Büttner addressed the Teamster Convention this summer. Teamster leaders from across the US and Canada gave his call for worldwide union solidarity a standing ovation.

The `China price' is lowering the floor for wage, benefit and working conditions worldwide.

Workers in China are facing ongoing repression when they stand up for their rights. The Teamsters are involved in a variety of strategies to push the Chinese government to stop the repression. Chinese workers are not the enemies of American workers.

US Corporations are pushing hard right now to stop an initiative for labor law reform in China that would make it harder for companies to fire workers at will. These corporations are undermining the transition to participatory democracy in China by lobbying against worker rights.

by Teamsters 2006-10-31 06:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

That was a detailed and informative response. Thank you.
by ravi 2006-10-31 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Great that you are intervening on behalf of these non Teamsters workers from other countries.

When are you going to intervene on behalf of hundreds of Teamsters in Local 85 who pay almost a hundred dollars a month in dues and are not allowed to vote to ratify the collective bargaining agreements they must work under.

Seems like you have your priorities a little screwed up, Brother!

by Shamed Teamster 2007-02-27 02:55PM | 0 recs
NAFTA Superhighway

I have question.

There's a story circulating that there are plans to improve the port facilities at Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico's Michoacan state, and use a transportation corridor,(highway, rail, utilities) to transport things to Kansas City to avoid American ports.  And now with Mexican drivers (potentially?) being allowed to drive American roads in the near future, and being paid Mexican wages for it, there seems to be an attack on unionization in the transportation sector.  Is there any truth to this story about the NAFTA superhighway?  

My father and brother in law are UAW, and I've seen how fast that sector has tanked once the transplants came in.  I'd hope that the transportation sector is less vulnerable, but I'm curious of your opinion.

by ManfromMiddletown 2006-10-30 02:18PM | 0 recs
Re: NAFTA Superhighway

Yes there is truth to this story. Texas is already planning a major trans-state highway system -- a toll road owned by, get this, a Spanish company.

See Teamster President Jim Hoffa's comments on this issue in the Detroit News.

This is why we are fighting for safe truck standards, and a re-examination of NAFTA and other trade policies that are killing American jobs.

Oh yeah, and what about all those port security measures Congress just passed? They'll be bypassed as ships from China, Korea and other importers dock south of the border.

by Teamsters 2006-10-30 04:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Let's Work Together for Change

Shockingly, neither of my Senators (in Ohio) are sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act ... the only R in the Senate list is Arlen "Gerald Ford became President, didn't he?" Spectre.

However, my next Senator is a sponsor of the House Bill, and I bet when he changes chambers he'll be happy to sign on over there.

by BruceMcF 2006-10-31 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Kick Some Butt Together for Change

Thank you for this.  I am the lawyer working on the ongoing campaign to get Santa Barbara News-Press ownership to relent and bargain with the Teamsters, and they are vicious, bringing out all the old irrelevant saws about the Teamsters, using its editorial pages (and all the lawyers they can muster) to fight this battle.  I blogged about this on Daily Kos before the vote, and the battle rages on since the resounding electoral victory.   We've had a lot of great community and media support, but there needs to be a vast upsurge in understanding and willingness to work, especially among Democrats, to make unions generally successful in this country again.

by budlawman 2006-11-27 07:59PM | 0 recs

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