Union Activism and Education Must Counter Anti-worker Program
The body politic is crawling with dissent.
Town meetings with legislators are uproarious with citizens of all political persuasions who are deeply concerned about their healthcare, Medicare and Medicaid. Scientists are marching in defense of unbiased inquiry. Educators are protesting privatization schemes. Environmentalists protest and publicize the threat to our water, our air, our land and the planet at large. Women have and are protesting misogyny, legal restrictions and workplace inequities.
Union members, including those who voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence and their Republican allies in the Congress, governors’ offices and in state legislatures, have plenty to protest, too.
Bills in the Senate and House, (H.R. 785 and S. 545), originating from determined anti-union legislators, call for a National Right-to-Work Law. The objective is to destroy the ability of unions to protect their members’ interests. President Trump said during the election campaign that he favors right-to-work (for less). Vice President Pence was anti-union as governor of Indiana and hawkish on right to work. Republican-controlled legislatures press for right-to-work (for less) where they haven’t already got it.
A Repeal Davis-Bacon Act bill (H.R 743) is pending in the House. A similar measure is under consideration in the Senate (S. 244). A successful repeal would strip away the prevailing wage provision that enables unionized construction contractors to compete effectively for federal contracts. Voter’s remorse will be the least of the ills suffered if Davis-Bacon repeal passes into law. Good paying jobs with benefits will disappear as non-union contractors jump in with low bids.
Union Activism and Education Must Counter Anti-worker Program
What can be done? In-plant, job-site and community education on the issues and importance of union representation is required. The cost of freeloading coworkers should be made plain where right-to-work laws already are in effect and where they might be in the future. The benefit of the prevailing wage rule to working families and their communities should be widely advertised.
Education may forestall some of the negative impact of right wing reactionary attacks on workers’ rights, attacks which will harm workers no matter for whom they voted.
People are looking for value. Union membership provides value to union members, employers and society. The Labor Movement needs to do a better job in convincing America that it provides value. ■
Labor Day has great meaning to many. Yes, a three-day weekend filled with family gatherings, last-minute end of summer trips, barbecues and fun, but it means so much more to those of us in the Labor Movement.
It’s a call to action. For the Union Label Department, it means a renewed effort to encourage our brothers and sisters and all Americans to look for the Union Label on items we purchase and services we seek. It means, we must work to defend our Movement against those who would seek to erase the past and erode the rights our unions gained for us over the years.
There is a long history of workers rising up to fight back against the injustices placed upon them. And I hope there is a long history ahead.
We’re already seeing great victories in our immediate past. Workers at Zara Fashion stores voted to form a union, giving 1,000 retail workers a voice at one of the largest fashion retailers in the world. Two hundred workers at the Lipton Tea plant in Virginia just voted to join a UFCW local. The “Fight for $15” campaign is gaining traction nationwide with legislative victories coming fast and furious.
But they are still fighting us. A Pacific Northwest restaurant group has put a “living wage” surcharge in place to turn diners against the living wage law recently passed in that area. The surcharge is a mere one percent – easily added to the restaurants prices with little pain (or notice) to diners. The restaurant group’s use of this tactic forces employees to explain the surcharge to diners, probably uncomfortably.
This is how businesses are fighting back against movements like Fight for $15. Turning the frontline employee or the union into the enemy of the consumer. These aren’t new tactics and we can overcome.
As labor leaders and union members, it’s clear our job is not done. It has only just begun. In our local unions across the country, there are 21st century labor heroes blazing a new path. Let’s take a moment this holiday weekend to remember those heroes that came before us. Or perhaps march side-by-side with our next generation of Labor heroes who may be fighting for safer conditions in our factories, equal pay for women, minimum wage laws, or progress in our work places.
Union Label Week, September 5-11, 2016
From Labor Day, Monday, September 5, through Sunday September 11, 2016 American labor will observe Union Label Week—the time traditionally set aside for union families and all consumers to make a special effort to support good jobs by looking for union-made goods and union-produced services when they shop.
So please join with us during Union Label Week to celebrate the skills of union workers and honor the work they do by looking for union-made goods and services.
Social Security has a Union Label. The 1935 passage of the original Social Security act was preceded by long-term labor movement activism. Every subsequent improvement and extension of social security protection was moved forward by labor movement action. Protections for disabled workers, Medicare and Medicaid, all part of the Social Security program, were the result of pressure from the labor movement and its allies in government and beyond.
The important role of Labor in social progress was acclaimed by President Obama, who said: “It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.” But progressive achievements are not invulnerable to attack.
In 2016, Social Security is under attack again. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has sought large reductions in Social Security programs throughout his career in Congress. The upcoming election could threaten these programs if Ryan and his allies win big and maintain Congressional majorities.
Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential candidate, called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in 2000 and has since indicated that for political reasons he cannot criticize it. His plan for supporting Social Security relies on projected corporate tax cuts to spark the economy, trickle-down economics in other words. His fiscal policy would actually result in a huge budget deficit requiring cuts in all federal programs.
Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO endorsed candidate for the presidency, has pledged to protect and improve benefits under the Social Security program. Democrats have countered Republican criticism of Social Security’s solvency with proposals like raising its revenue by raising the income cap on contributions.
Unfortunately, the assault on the middle class and workers’ rights has many sides. The extension of right-to-work laws remains a Republican goal. Trump, told South Carolina Radio Network, “I love the right to work.”
With all of this in mind, union voters should remember all of the ways in which our country has been improved by the labor movement’s progressive agenda, social progress proudly displaying the Union Label.
The split decision in the Friedrich’s case, an unveiled attack on public unions by rightwing opponents to collective bargaining, produced a stalemate which leaves those rights as they were. In the event that the Supreme Court cannot reach a decision, the lower court ruling stands. Therefore, public unions can continue to represent their members and to collect dues to meet union expenses.
The absence of the late Justice Antonin Scalia from the Supreme Court was the key to this quasi-victory. To maintain public employee bargaining rights and to keep public employee unions strong, a progressive replacement for Scalia on the Supreme Court is needed. Undoubtedly, the anti-union element will try again to reverse earlier decisions affirming these rights. To make the victory secure, a more progressive Supreme Court is needed.
Hence, the importance of November’s presidential election. The next president will name judges to federal courts at every level. And who knows, maybe President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia will eventually be seated. If not, the Supreme Court seat and all it implies for union rights will be hugely important in 2017.
Finally, kudos to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and the Obama administration for the new union persuader rule that requires the identification of consultants hired by companies to defeat union organizing campaigns. Such activities should be known to employees.
The Obama administration, friendly to unions, their members and potential members, produced the persuader rule. An unfriendly administration could reverse it. One more indication of the presidential election’s importance. ■