November 2009

From the Officers
index.html Home    Print    Email

Go to
One Year Later

One year ago, our union cheered the election of a new president and dozens of fresh faces in Congress elected with labor’s support. I said then that voting for candidates is only a first step that must be followed by work to hold our leaders accountable to their promises.

Thomas Jefferson said that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. But maybe an old preacher said it even better: "The bread of life is never served dining-room style; it’s on the cafeteria plan—you must help yourself."

So how have our leaders been doing since last November? And how have we been doing at helping ourselves to the change that we voted for?

The Obama administration, with congressional support, has stood up for fair pay, reversed the Bush administration’s ban on project labor agreements on federal projects and released stimulus money to save jobs in the auto industry and in the public and private sectors. These are important gains.

But before the election, labor identified the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform as issues at the top of our agenda.

For a time, the Employee Free Choice Act was hampered by the lack of a 60-vote majority in the Senate. Today, that 60-vote majority is seated, but we are no closer to passing this act. Some of our "friends'" knees have buckled as our adversaries have poured money into misleading public relations campaigns on both the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform. Big money buys weak knees.

Today, we're fighting to keep health care reform focused on helping working families and the uninsured, and not be just another sop to the big companies. And we have drawn a line in the sand against the taxation of benefits, which is in one version of the bill in the Senate.

Meanwhile, we keep hearing that the Employee Free Choice Act is on hold until health care is resolved, which could drag it into next year, an election year with all its pressures and foot dragging.

Political courage is what we need from our leaders to pass health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act. Our grassroots mobilizing must be on tap to support our allies in the fight—and to stiffen their spines.

Edwin D. Hill
International President

Job One—Jobs

The scourge of unemployment is growing, even amidst talk about an uptick on Wall Street. Our members who are out of work and the 17 percent of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed cannot afford another jobless recovery. Unlike the big investors and owners, labor’s ticker tape only looks good when it reads, "Help Wanted," when dispatchers write "referred" in their books.

Some members are displaying true solidarity by agreeing to work shorter hours to keep their co-workers on the job. It’s a short-term fix that staves off the loss of medical insurance which keeps unemployed workers up at night.

Our members’ generosity should be an example to policy makers that it’s time to drill down on the job of putting Americans back to work. The Obama administration needs to prime the economic pump with the same audacity and grassroots orientation that marked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal—doing whatever it takes to put productive men and women to work.

A Hart Research Associates survey has found that 44 percent of households have already experienced job loss or cuts in pay or hours since the current recession began.

Among other solutions, the Economic Policy Institute is calling for the direct creation of public service jobs at prevailing wages. With more and more states falling into financial crisis, federal government support is essential. Extending legislation that pays up to 65 percent of COBRA for unemployed workers and renewing unemployment benefit extensions will keep up buying power and create jobs. Tax credits to employers who take on new workers could encourage a burst of hiring.

Controversy will erupt the minute our president moves with any of the above programs. Our opponents will yell about "too much government." We can’t let them win this time. At stake are millions of working families, including some of our own members, who will end up joining the ranks of the impoverished if bold action is not taken. That’s not the America that generations of workers have fought and died for.

Lindell K. Lee
International Secretary-Treasurer