For the last two years our federal government, and far too many state governments, have been completely dominated by anti-worker politicians. The results have been disastrous for working people:
Anti-Worker Supreme Court
After the confirmation of Trump’s nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court now has a firm anti-worker majority (who hold their seats for life). The new court wasted no time in issuing a host of anti-worker decisions:
- The Janus decision intended to weaken the labor movement by prohibiting public-sector workers from negotiating union security clauses in their contracts.
- The Murphy Oil decision makes it harder for non-union workers to enforce labor laws through class action lawsuits.
- The Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute decision upheld voter purges in Ohio that disproportionately affect voters of color and low-income, disabled, and veteran voters. In October, the Supreme Court also upheld a discriminatory voter ID law in North Dakota that disproportionately affects Native Americans.
Attacks on Workers’ Rights
- In Iowa, one of the first actions the new Republican majority took in 2017 was dismantling what had been one of the better public-sector collective bargaining laws in the country. Thousands of UE members in Iowa lost the right to bargain over most issues besides wages, and must face recertification elections, with unfair rules stacked against the unions, every time they negotiate a new contract.
- In West Virginia and North Carolina, where public-sector workers do not have collective bargaining, state legislators have tried to pass legislation to remove the right to dues check-off.
- The National Labor Relations Board, now heavy with management-friendly appointees, has acted to limit workers’ rights to picket, upholding the firing of a group of janitors who were picketing the building where they worked. They have also overturned a number of rules that protected workers’ rights to organize.
$1.5 Trillion Tax Scam
The misnamed “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed by Congress at the end of 2017 will not provide real tax relief for working people or create jobs, but it is full of giveaways to the wealthy and corporations. At a time of record corporate profits, the bill permanently lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent — but the tax cuts for individuals sunset after ten years.
The UE officers noted that the $1.5 trillion “would be far better spent on massive investment in infrastructure, which — unlike corporate tax cuts — would actually create jobs.” According to the Congressional Budget Office, the purchase of goods and services by the federal government would raise gross domestic product by as much as $2.50 for every $1 spent, while federal grants to state and local government for infrastructure could create as much as $2.20 for every $1 spent. Each dollar spent on tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, by contrast, generates only 60 and 40 cents respectively.
The massive deficit created by this tax giveaway is already being used by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to justify attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and he is openly courting corporate Democrats to join in this plunder.
Militarization of Immigration Policy
The militarization of immigration policy, begun when the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) department was established and intensified in the past two years, has resulted in mass incarceration of immigrants, including children, in detention centers reminiscent of concentration camps.
UE’s General Executive Board noted in August that “the criminalization and imprisonment of adults and their children, human beings fleeing repression and slaughter, has no place in a democracy. It is an immoral response to migration that is the result of the U.S. corporate and military interventions in other countries, carried out to repress worker and trade union rights and democracy and increase profits for U.S. corporations.”
Missed Opportunity to Fix NAFTA
The new “NAFTA 2.0,” announced at the end of September, will not rebuild US manufacturing or raise wages. The new trade pact contains some modest improvements for workers, but also new giveaways to corporations. Click here for more on NAFTA 2.0
The renegotiation of NAFTA offered an opportunity to rethink trade policy and improve conditions for workers in all three countries — Canadian negotiators, under pressure from their labor movement, had in fact proposed the elimination of “right to work” laws in the U.S., and unions in all three countries pushed to improve the abysmally low wages in Mexico, which is the real incentive for outsourcing. However, Congressional Republican leaders lobbied hard to keep the basic pro-corporate framework of the agreement, and were largely successful.
Despite Low Unemployment, Wages Are Not Rising
Mainstream economists believe that with our currently tight job market, wage growth will have to begin climbing at some point to make up for the now higher cost of living. However, while they have continually predicted a substantial uptick in wages will happen at some point during the recovery, they have continually been wrong – to the point that even some mainstream economists are now suggesting the historic relationship between a tight labor market and higher wages was contingent on the greater bargaining power that workers had due to, among other things, a greater union presence in the workplace.
A POLITICAL REVOLUTION
However, there is also good news. Across the country, insurgents inspired by Bernie Sanders are increasingly challenging both right-wing Republicans and corporate Democrats. They are running, not on the stale line of being slightly better than their opponents, but on bold programs that in many cases could be taken from UE Policy.
Some of these insurgent candidates — such as ironworker Randy “Ironstache” Bryce in Wisconsin and Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato in greater Pittsburgh — have been endorsed by UE regions. UE’s Eastern Region was, in fact, the only union to endorse Lee and Innamorato, both of them young women who won primary elections against incumbent, do-nothing establishment Democrats. (Neither Lee nor Innamorato will face a challenger in the general election.)
Most of the insurgents have the support of Our Revolution, an organization formed to carry on Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” past the 2016 presidential campaign, and whose chair, Larry Cohen, addressed the 2017 UE convention. Our Revolution also has a labor arm, which UE is part of, called Labor for Our Revolution, which is helping to coordinate labor support for these candidates.
Though most of the insurgents are running on the Democratic Party line, they represent a real break with the corporate Democrats who have dominated the party for decades, bringing us such debacles as the North American Free Trade Agreement while completely failing to stand up for working people.
UE General President Peter Knowlton says, “These are historic elections in 2018. Record numbers of women, and especially women of color, are running for office at every level of government. This is an incredibly important development. There is a political revolution brewing in our country and it supports those candidates who hold deep, working-class progressive values.”
If working people — still the vast majority of potential voters — turn out to vote, we can put our country on the road towards winning:
“Medicare for All” Single-Payer Healthcare
Following Sanders’ popularization of the term “Medicare for All” during his presidential campaign, single-payer healthcare has become even more popular among the American people, and has begun to make inroads among Democratic politicians. H.R. 676, the single-payer bill in the House of Representatives, now has a record 123 co-sponsors, and Sanders’ companion bill in the Senate, S. 1804, has sixteen, including several Senators who are considering presidential runs in 2020.
Passage of Medicare for All would take healthcare off the bargaining table once and for all, and ensure that all Americans can get the healthcare they need, regardless of ability to pay.
Restored Rights to Organize
In May, Senator Sanders (re)introduced his landmark workers-rights legislation, the Workplace Democracy Act — originally formulated with assistance from UE — which would restore to U.S. workers the right to organize unions without employer interference. For more information on the Workplace Democracy Act, go to ueunion.org/workplacedemocracy.
Investment in Infrastructure to Create Good Jobs
The “Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future (OFF) Act,” introduced by Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a Sanders ally, reflects the basic components of UE’s policy on climate and jobs and calls for clear timelines for a just transition of our nation to renewable energy (80% by 2027 and 100% by 2035) while protecting affected workers and communities. Congressional candidate Bryce, who is campaigning on his support for the OFF Act, says “As an ironworker, [I] got to see firsthand how labor could lead the way on solar technology and other renewable energy sources.”
UE’s General Executive Board endorsed the OFF Act in June, noting that “It addresses our concerns on wage and benefit protection and job training for workers in the fossil fuel industry, as well as provides clear pathways for renewable energy workers to exercise their right to join and organize a union. It [also] addresses the historic exclusion of communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities in the development and oversight of energy policy.”
Perhaps the most important state battleground this year is Iowa, where the wages, benefits and working conditions of thousands of UE-represented workers are on the line.
Under Iowa’s new restrictive laws, the only topic public-sector employers are legally obligated to bargain over is wages. However, a more worker-friendly governor could instruct the state bargaining team to at least discuss “permissive” subjects of bargaining, such as grievance procedures, paid and sick leave, and hours of work. The governor also appoints members of the Board of Regents, who govern the University of Iowa and bargain with Local 896.
The only hope for restoring full collective bargaining rights is if working people are able to accomplish a “trifecta” by also removing the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate — although UE members know from past experience that Democrats will need to be pushed hard to do anything positive for working people.
In Pennsylvania, three candidates have earned the endorsement of UE Locals 506 and 618, which represent workers at the General Electric plant in Erie.
“Governor Tom Wolf, Senator Bob Casey, and Congressional Candidate Ron DiNicola are the candidates who take concrete actions to defend working people,” says Local 506 Vice President Tom Bobrowicz. “They are the candidates who are against the Right-to-Work attack on the State of Pennsylvania, and they are the candidates who come to us in our time of need.
“When General Electric chose to attack our union by transferring work from our facility to foreign countries it was Ron DiNicola who stepped in and fought the federal government to give our displaced workers TAA/TRA benefits.
“When General Electric chose to attack our union by transferring work from our facility to a non-union facility in a Right-to-Work state it was Governor Wolf who reached out to us and offered up the full support of his administration to assist our displaced members through some difficult times.
“Senator Bob Casey was instrumental in obtaining an emergency grant of $751,000 to assist the over 1500 workers General Electric displaced in 2016. He has vowed to protect Social Security and pensions as well as put good wages and family-sustaining jobs back within the reach of every Pennsylvanian.”
Wolf’s opponent Scott Wagner is vociferously anti-union, comparing unions to Hitler. As a state senator, his political shenanigans resulted in shutting down the state’s unemployment system at the end of 2016, resulting in tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians — including many UE members — having their benefits cut off during the holidays. Most recently, he made violent threats against his opponent, saying “I'm gonna stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”
In Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, an area in the southeastern part of the state where many Local 1137 members and Local 1111 retirees live, union ironworker Randy “Ironstache” Bryce is running for the Congressional seat being vacated by Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is retiring. Bryce has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution, and is running on issues that could be taken straight from UE Policy: Medicare-for-All, single-payer healthcare, massive investment in green infrastructure to generate jobs, and defending and strengthening Social Security.
Wisconsin voters also have an opportunity this year to send their anti-union governor Scott Walker into retirement. Walker made national news in 2011 when he pushed through a bill stripping public-sector workers of collective bargaining rights — the model for the one passed in Iowa in 2017. He has also pushed through a “right-to-work” law to weaken unions across the board, given massive tax cuts to the wealthy and cut funding for education and other public services working people rely on.
As public-sector workers without collective bargaining rights, Local 170 members’ wages and benefits, including the funding for the Public Employees Insurance Agency through which Local 170 members get their healthcare, are controlled by the state legislature. The local held a well-attended candidates’ forum in their new union hall in the state capital of Charleston in April, and has also been asking candidates to answer questions about PEIA funding and other issues of importance to public workers by sending videos to the local’s Facebook page, where members can view the candidates’ videos and make their own decisions.
Local 170’s Facebook page can be accessed at facebook.com/uelocal170
In North Carolina, the right-wing legislature has put six constitutional amendments on the ballot. Local 150, UE’s statewide local, is urging their members to “Nix All Six” amendments, arguing that they are by turns unnecessary, administratively cumbersome, and partisan power grabs. One amendment would cap the income tax rate, threatening public services like education, transportation, mental health and infrastructure as well as many state workers’ jobs. Another would require photo ID to vote, a common method of voter suppression that disproportionately affects poor, Black, elderly and working-class voters. Local 150 members at their convention in August unanimously voted to oppose all of the amendments.
Local 150 members have also been asking candidates what they will do for state workers through various means, including a candidate forum held by the Durham Workers’ Assembly, which members of the Durham city workers’ chapter of Local 150 participated in.
Proposition 10, which has been endorsed by Local 1421, would repeal a law, passed 20 years ago by Republican legislators and the landlord lobby, which forbids local governments from establishing rent control ordinances. This is an urgent issue for working people in California, as workers’ wages are increasingly eaten up by skyrocketing rents in most major cities. Rent control is an affordable-housing measure that is free to governments and doesn’t require tax dollars, and studies show that rent control keeps neighborhoods stable and affordable, benefiting working people.
Local 1421 has also joined Our Revolution and many other labor unions in endorsing progressive Scott Rhinehardt for state assembly.
THE STAKES ARE HIGH
Every election in recent years has been a defensive battle, to preserve what we have — and our success as a labor movement has been mixed. This one finally offers the possibility of creating real momentum towards positive change. But only if working people take the time to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, then show up at the polls and vote.
Says Knowlton, “UE members and retirees know the stakes in this election and will respond strongly. The 2018 midterm elections will set the stage for 2020 which could well be the most important election of our lifetime.”
For more political education resources, please visit UE's Independent Political Action page.