UE 2008 Political Action Conference: Members Take Our Issues to Halls of Congress (Updated)

May 1, 2008

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UE Rank-and-File Political Action: Meeting during the course of two days with more than 60 members of Congress, UE members were seen just about everywhere in House and Senate office buildings. In the top photo Milwaukee UE members are shown with Senator Russ Feingold. From left: UE Local 1111 members Marilyn Petlewski, Kyle Cordie, Diane Richter, Bob Granum, Senator Feingold, UE Gen. Exec. Brd. member Lauro Bonilla (Local 1103), Paul Skornia and Sandra Schwahn (both from Local 1111). Above, left: Western Region President Carl Rosen (center) listens as Stanley Associates worker Francine Hayes (left) poses questions. At right is UE Local 243 President Ray Pompano with Wayne Morrison, also from Local 243 (center) and Mario Anez from Local 222.
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More: Political action conference delegates gathered for speakers and raised issues ranging from the right to organize, the war in Iraq, to Health Care. Above, right, Local 150 Cherry Hospital Chapter President, William Newsome makes a point while fellow UE Local 150 member Raymond Howard looks on. Pictured above with Senator Chuck Schumer; from Local 329, are (from left): Ron Phunter and President Kevin Elmquist, Local 332 member Elizabeth Robinson, Sen. Schumer, Angel Sardina and Bus. Agent Bruce Reese, both from Local 332.

More than 100 UE members took our union’s top concerns to Capitol Hill in three intense days of UE political action April 27-30. Delegates from 28 UE locals in 14 states met with over 60 members of Congress or their aides, as part of the 2008 UE Political Action Conference.

Issues Briefings

UE members were addressed by four progressive members of Congress who have been steadfast friends of our union and fighters for the issues that matter to us. On Monday Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke to the UE delegation. He said working people in the U.S. are poorer than they were 30 years ago because the labor movement has been “decimated.” He called for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, to make it easier for workers to join unions and begin the process of “increasing wages and benefits for everyone.” On Tuesday members heard from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who described the economic destruction caused by “free trade,” which he’s consistently opposed. Representative Jan Shakowsky (D-IL) documented for members the sky-high costs of the Iraq war and the obscene waste of resources that could be used to solve this nation’s problems. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) called for a massive job-creating program through producing environmentally-friendly “green” technology in the U.S.

UE delegates also received briefings from guest speakers on key issues.  Dr. Robert Zarr, M.D. of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) spoke on the crisis of healthcare and the need for single-payer national health insurance. The labor rights crisis and the need for the Employee Free Choice Act were described by Rebecca Wasserman of American Rights at Work, an organization that works to restore the right to join unions. And Sue Udry of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) spoke on the disastrous costs of the Iraq war. Each of these speakers also answered members’ questions.

'Eye-Opener'

The final session of the conference was a report-back where members described their meetings with lawmakers and Congressional aides. These ranged from very positive meetings with Representatives and Senators who agree with us on many issues, to tense meetings with those who consistently oppose workers’ needs. Some reported meeting with unprepared aides who knew much less about the issues than the UE members did. A few members met with Representative or Senators with terrible labor records who were nonetheless trying to “make nice” to improve their image.

Assessments of the conference were universally upbeat. “It was an eye-opener, a great experience. I’m proud of UE,” said Mario Anez of Local 222, a city worker from New Haven, CT. UE General President John Hovis called it “the largest and most energetic UE political action conference to date.” Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple urged the delegates to give detailed reports to their members back home. “You did a lot of hard work here. Make sure your members know about it and share in what you’ve learned.”

Watch for more detailed reports on the conference, including photos and interviews, in the next issue of the UE NEWS.

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