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June 2018

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Move to Weaken Workers' Rights Fails in Senate

In a major victory for the IBEW and unions, the Senate rejected the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act on April 16, avoiding what would have been the biggest rollback in workers' rights since the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

The bill would have exempted any business or corporation partially or wholly owned by a Native American tribe from the National Labor Relations Act, which guarantees workers the right to join a union. It would have applied to all employees of those businesses, including non-tribal citizens. More than 600,000 workers would have lost protections guaranteed by the NLRA if the bill had passed, according to the AFL-CIO.

The House passed the bill in January, but it needed 60 votes in the Senate, where it fell five votes short of breaking a filibuster. It is unclear if the Senate will take it up again. President Trump had not voiced an opinion, but he was expected to sign the bill if it reached his desk. Among its supporters was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"This was a great win for the IBEW and all of labor," said Austin Keyser, director of the Political and Legislative Affairs Department. "We fully support Native American tribes having sovereign power over their own governmental issues, but this bill had nothing to do with that. Instead, it was an attempt by rich and powerful interests to strip hundreds of thousands of Americans of their fundamental rights at work."

Indeed, some tribal leaders made little attempt to disguise their intentions of eliminating union representation.

"I would liken it to what happened with the air traffic controllers strike a number of years ago," a representative for the Chickasaw Nation told a congressional hearing earlier this year. "We obviously are not on as large a scale, but that is the type of activity that would interfere with what we are doing."

The IBEW saw that first hand. Diamond Bar, Calif., Local 47 represents about 30 slot-machine technicians at a casino in Cabazon owned by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. The local union voted to ratify an agreement following contract negotiations, but negotiators for the tribe refused to recommend tribal members approve it because they had been emboldened by Congress' potential action.

Keyser thanked members for contacting their representatives to oppose the bill, noting that attendees during the annual political conference made it a point of emphasis while lobbying on Capitol Hill.

"IBEW members understood this bill would have emboldened our opponents if they had been successful," he said. "We certainly would have been targeted at some point. I'm really pleased with how we worked with our friends and allies to defeat this terrible piece of legislation."

It wasn't easy. Eight Senate Democrats, the majority of whom are up for re-election this year in states with large Native American populations, voted in favor of the bill. Ohio's Rob Portman was the lone Republican to vote against it.

"I want to thank our members and supporters who contacted their representatives urging them to vote no," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "I'm convinced they made a difference, but we must remain vigilant. If we've learned anything, it's that more attacks are coming from this Congress."


Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the only Republican to vote against the labor rights rollback

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user World Economic Forum

IBEW Members Win in Wisconsin,
Build Momentum for November
Labor and working families in Wisconsin got a boost on AprilĀ 3 when IBEW members and labor allies racked up impressive victories in municipal and judicial elections, sparking enthusiasm they hope will carry into the November elections. Three IBEW members were elected or re-elected to their posts, including a surprisingly lopsided victory by Eau Claire Local 953 vice president and assistant business manager Brady Weiss, who beat a far-right member of the Wisconsin House to become the mayor of the town of Mondovi in west-central Wisconsin. Other IBEW members who won elections were Dan Bukiewicz, a former Local 494 business representative and current president of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council, who was re-elected mayor of Milwaukee suburb Oak Creek; and fellow 494 member and current business representative Curt Brauer, who was re-elected supervisor in Sheboygan County, about 50 miles north of Milwaukee. Weiss knocked off incumbent Treig Pronschinske 457-256 in Mondovi, a town of about 2,800 near Eau Claire. Pronchinske, who also serves in the state House, has consistently supported Gov. Scott Walker and proposals that harm working families. "People are common-sense voters in my town," said Weiss, a lineman making his first run for public office. "You have to constantly be trying to find common ground with people. If you take an adversarial position on every topic along party lines, nothing will be accomplished and nothing can be gained." The IBEW in Wisconsin also worked with other groups to elect Rebecca Dallet to the state Supreme Court. Dallet, a Milwaukee County Circuit judge, won a seat held by a conservative justice not seeking re-election. Her victory cuts the conservatives' edge on the seven-member court to 4-3. Walker and his allies have been emboldened by knowing the state's high court likely won't overturn their most controversial measures. "We are proud of our work to help elect these fantastic candidates," Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh said. "We endorsed candidates who support working families, job creation and using tax dollars to make investments in our communities." Earlier this year, Democrats picked up a state Senate seat when Patty Schachtner won a special election in District 10 by 11 percentage points. President Trump won the district by 17 points in 2016. The GOP still holds an 18-14 advantage in the state Senate and 63-35 in the House. Walker, who led the charge in Wisconsin adopting a right-to-work law in 2015 and eviscerating public employee unions in 2011, also is running for a third term in November. "You can sense the tide is turning here in Wisconsin, but it's still an uphill battle," Warsh said. "Most voters understand the Walker era has been a disaster, but that means nothing if we don't get them to the polls in November."


Eau Clair, Wis., Local 953's Brady Weiss