In This TogetherApril 2005 IBEW Journal
When I was initiated into Local 449 in Pocatello, Idaho, some 35 years ago, I never thought I would be the number-two officer in this great Brotherhood. But here I am communicating with hundreds of thousands of active and retired members of the IBEW.
I thank President Hill and the IEC for the confidence they have shown in me. And I salute Jerry O’Connor, who used these pages superbly to speak hard truths and inspire us to take on difficult challenges. I promise you that I will never do anything less than my best as your International Secretary-Treasurer.
Washington, D.C., is over two thousand miles from Pocatello. In some ways, the distance is even further. A lot of working people in the so-called red states don’t like me bad-mouthing the Bush administration. They listen, like other folks across the nation, to radio and TV personalities running at the mouth about "big government" and "everyone making it on their own" until they overdose.
This administration has no quarrel with "big government" as long as that government is friendlier to big business with no concern for the working people, or for those who will pay for the federal deficit.
Few people make it "on their own" without someone’s helping hand. Even the "Marlboro Man," that so-called symbol of the West, needs his sign painters to climb the steep ladders to get him up on the billboards and our members to put up the lights.
As I settle "inside the Beltway," passing familiar national landmarks each day, I remember when the link between government and the need for a helping hand for our citizens was part of the credo of civil servants. They weren’t afraid to take on corporate interests on behalf of the safety, rights and needs of the average worker. Many of them are still here. The tragedy is that their administration-appointed managers now tell them that they must see companies as their most important "clients," especially those who sell goods from China and elsewhere.
The Labor Department takes overtime pay away from millions of workers and writes accounting rules for international and local unions that will burn up millions of dollars that could be spent organizing workers and defending contracts. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense move to eliminate collective bargaining rights. The Social Security Administration creates advertisements for a "private accounts" scheme that undermines the very purpose of the agency. And we will all grow old and sick waiting for this President and this Congress to do something about the scandalous state of health care in the United States.
In my job as Secretary-Treasurer, health care is an issue I can do something about. I intend to follow through with the leadership President Hill has shown and the record of accomplishment built by Jerry O’Connor by exploring the development of regional health care plans as a way to enlarge the base of coverage and spread the rates of usage over a broader group to reduce premium costs. Until labor has more strength for stronger solutions to the health care crisis, regional plans can help.
I will never forget where the real strength of our union is. That strength was evident in the new activists who worked so hard on the 2004 elections. Rather than letting them be discouraged, we need to keep them involved and make plans now to elect more public officeholders across the nation, from mayors to county commissioners to dogcatchers, to help create a pro-labor climate. In time, we can bring the helping hand back to our nation’s capital.
Thank you, again, for the trust that you have placed in me. I look forward to working with you and for you in the days ahead.
Jon F. Walters