Meeting over Zoom on June 10 and 11, the UE General Executive Board reviewed a proposal for a program to encourage the development of rank and file members from racial and ethnic backgrounds who are currently underrepresented in UE leadership or on the UE staff. The program would help members to gain experiences and develop skills to attain higher leadership positions, and to seek employment on UE staff when openings become available.
Eastern Region Vice President and Local 610 President Antwon Gibson said “this developmental program is key, it’s very important to our union moving forward, and I think this is the beginning of something great.”
Margaret Dabrowski, Local 222, pointed out that “the best staff we’ve ever had do come from the rank and file.”
Western Region President Charlene Winchell said, “I think this is a great program and we need to do this for the life of our union,” and also noted the importance of training for new staff.
Eastern Region President George Waksmunski and Bryce Carter, Local 150, also spoke in favor of the program, which was adopted unanimously by the board.
“No Shortage of Organizing Campaigns”
In his organizing report, Director of Organization Gene Elk noted that “we currently have no shortage of new organizing campaigns,” and that the availability of vaccines is allowing organizing staff to resume onsite organizing work.
He reported that after a year’s delay, the National Labor Board has finally upheld UE’s June 2020 election victory at rail contractor PTI in California. Local 1077 can now begin bargaining for members who illegally suffered wage and benefit cuts when the new contractor took over work formerly done by Local 1077 members employed by Hallcon. The case, Elk said, “shows the weakness of our labor board system, where justice is delayed for at least a year.”
Elk also reported on UE organizing campaigns at Planned Parenthood at Western Pennsylvania (see opposite page) and among graduate workers at two public universities in New Mexico (see page 5), as well as the efforts of student workers at Kenyon College to win union recognition from their employer (see page 8).
Eastern Region President Waksmunski, who worked on the campaign at New Mexico State University, reported that the “brilliant young folks” he worked with on that campaign “liked our history, our militancy, our rank-and-file membership … what UE is.” Elk invited International Representative Mark Meinster to give a presentation to the board on a “transformational opportunity” for UE to organize thousands of graduate employees in the coming years.
“Fight for Our Future”
As part of the political action report, President Carl Rosen, Local 506 President Scott Slawson and Local 610 President Antwon Gibson gave an update on UE’s Green Rail initiative, an effort to win legislation that would force railroads to replace their old, polluting locomotives with new, cleaner and more efficient ones. Longtime UE ally Jesus “Chuy” Garcia has successfully inserted Green Rail language into the transportation and infrastructure bill, Rosen reported, though he pointed out that the hard part of the fight still remains, as the legislation is going to have to survive a full House vote and go over to the Senate.
Slawson reviewed the development of the project, observing that "when they talk about UE punching well above our weight class, we definitely did here.” If the Green Rail language stays in the transportation and infrastructure bill, Slawson said Local 506 members “will be extremely busy over the next eight to nine years just with that alone, while we develop the new technology to get us to zero emissions.” He also noted support given to the initiative by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey.
Gibson spoke about the efforts of UE Wabtec locals to reach out to representatives at both the state and federal level. “Chuy Garcia has been a good advocate for us,” he said. Rosen thanked the Wabtec locals for engaging in this "fight for our future.”
Improve, Expand Medicare
President Rosen reported that UE allies are pushing for a three-part improvement and expansion of Medicare. They are pushing to add dental, hearing and vision coverage, drop the enrollment age to 60 or 55, and allow for negotiation of drug prices, which creates financial savings which pays for the other things. Rosen noted that this will help pave the way towards Medicare for All.
Margaret Dabrowski noted in the Zoom chat that lowering the enrollment age for Medicare would allow her to retire five years earlier. Scott Slawson reported that since transitioning to Wabtec, Local 506 members are more engaged in the issue of Medicare for All. “When we were with GE we had retiree healthcare,” he said. “Now that’s not reality, and what we’re seeing is that many of our workers are having to work longer because retiree healthcare is no longer available for them.”
Rosen also reported that the PRO Act, major labor law reform legislation that would make organizing and collective bargaining easier for workers, will not get passed unless the filibuster is overturned. He called out Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), who refuse to join their colleagues to overturn the filibuster. “Basically they’re giving Republicans veto power over anything good,” he said.
Nonetheless, the labor movement and its allies have put up a very good fight for the PRO Act, Rosen said, recognizing the work of the Painters’ Union and the Democratic Socialists of America.
On voting rights, Rosen reported on Republican efforts to curtail voting rights. “We can’t underestimate the damage that is being done at the state level, where they are basically trying to lock in permanent rule by Republicans,” which will allow them to pass the kind of anti-union laws seen in West Virginia and Iowa. “The only way to stop this juggernaut is federal law,” Rosen said.
Following a detailed presentation from Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker and extensive debate and discussion, the board approved a budget for the national union for 2021-22. The board also issued charters for two new UE locals: Local 696, representing workers at Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, and Local 1011, representing workers at the new Slow Bloom Coffee Cooperative, a worker co-op set up by the employees of a coffee chain in Redlands, CA which shut down in an attempt to break a UE organizing campaign.