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February 2019

From the Officers
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Attacking Our Dignity

On any worksite, if the foreman fails to do his job, they don't cut the apprentice's wages. This is true on every job in every corner of North America.

Every job, that is, unless you work for the U.S. Government.

As we go to print, the federal government shutdown is nearing the end of its second week. Around 800,000 federal workers — including thousands of IBEW members — are wondering how their mortgages will be paid, how groceries will get in the pantry and gas in the car.

National parks are locked, unstaffed and unprotected. Food and drug inspections haven't stopped, but they are as thin as mist.

By the time you are reading this, the shutdown may be over. Worryingly, it may drag on longer than any of us can anticipate.

But no one really knows, and that is the point. The banks don't care why you don't have the money when the mortgage comes due. The gas station won't fill the tank of a federal worker if they hand over an IOU saying, "As soon as Congress and the president get their act together, this slip of paper will be worth $32.15."

The federal Office of Personnel Management sent out some sample letters for furloughed federal employees to consider sending to their landlords. The letters suggested trading "services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments."

This is beneath the dignity of our country. The issues are important — the political theater less so — but the men and women who keep the machinery of our government working aren't at fault and shouldn't be punished.

It is wrong for the elected leadership of this country to make working families — again — pay the price of their failures.

Four days before Christmas, the federal government went into partial shutdown. A week later, President Trump made matters worse, issuing an executive order that unilaterally canceled the planned 2.1 percent pay raise federal workers were set to receive starting Jan. 1.

In the past, unionized federal workers received their back pay after shutdowns ended. But the subcontractors who clean the offices, guard the entrances and cook the food in the cafeteria are likely to be simply out of luck.

When I was a kid, the federal government never closed over policy disagreements. In the last 40 years, it has happened more than a dozen times.

I can't help noticing that this was about that same time that the war on labor began, when wages stopped rising except for CEOs and billionaires. The people in charge always have reasons why working people should have less and worry more. This time the reason is a wall. Last time it was something else and next time — because there probably will be a next time — it'll be something different.

We cannot build a great country by attacking the dignity of working people. Congress needs to solve its problems on someone else's back.


Also: Cooper: Keeping Our Promise Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President