In their discussion of several resolutions throughout the week, convention delegates made clear their desire for a just economy and society, where all people have decent working conditions, adequate social support, a dignified retirement, health care and education. They were just as clear that making that vision a reality will require independent political action by working people.
The resolution “A Just Economy for All” prompted numerous delegates to speak to the importance of raising the minimum wage, shortening the work week, ensuring that all workers have an adequate retirement, and providing assistance to workers who lose their jobs due to plant closings.
Renee Ezell, Local 119, rose to say that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $20 per hour. Sekia Royall, Local 150, decried the fact that “North Carolina’s minimum wage is $7.35 per hour, still.” She reported that “We got state workers that have been working 20 years making $15 an hour,” and “we’ve got city workers ... that can’t even afford to live in the cities where they work.” Meanwhile, corporations are receiving massive tax breaks from the state.
Fred Hatef, Local 1008, said that the minimum wage should be tied to inflation and cost of living. Calling the 40-hour workweek “one of the most recognized accomplishments of the labor movement in this country,” he called for Congress to enact legislation to reduce the work week to 32 hours. Mike Giles, Local 506, also spoke on the importance of winning a shorter work week, declaring that “two days off is not enough.” He urged his fellow UE members to stand in solidarity with “our UAW brethren” striking the Big Three automakers, as one of their demands is a four-day workweek.
Tobias Pace, Local 808, described how his employer, the federal contractor ITC Federal, refused to respect President Biden’s executive order setting a $16.20 minimum wage for federal contractors. “Because we’re a union, we were able to fight that,” he said. “This just shows … no matter what the law is, how important it is to have a union fighting for you.”
Antwon Gibson, Local 610, reported that “Our plant is closing in Wilmerding.” However, because Congress did not fund the TRA and TAA programs to assist workers who lose their jobs due to trade, “our members don’t qualify for it.” He moved that the resolution be amended to demand that Congress restore and maintain funding for trade assistance programs, which was accepted as friendly.
Ricky Steele, Local 506, spoke at length about the importance of fighting for a secure and dignified retirement for all working people. “I stand in full support of any resolution that makes retirement easier for the working class,” he said. He called for “pensions for all,” noting that 401(k)s are tied to the stock market and the stock market fluctuates — “Any losses could cause you to work longer than your health will allow you to.”
Josh Reuter, Local 123, pointed out that “it’s impossible to have a just economy if it’s run by” the “criminal, corrupt” federal reserve system. Cedric Whelchel, Local 1177, also spoke on the resolution.
Fighting for Medicare for All
Speaking on the resolution “Medicare for All,” both Dawn Meyer, Local 808, and Ashley Clemons, Local 1004, shared stories of having lost loved ones to the cost of healthcare. Meyer’s husband refused to go to the doctor after medical debt from a previous health problem caused them to lose their home years previously. Clemons lost her mother due to her inability to secure health insurance coverage. “You shouldn’t have to die because people want to line their pockets,” Clemons declared. Mike Giles, Local 506, thanked them for having the courage to tell their stories about “this screwed up health system.”
Other delegates offered further testimony on what General President Carl Rosen called “a murderous system.” Theresa Sochanchak, Local 119, said “Our health insurance that we have for our job is a joke.” Their plan is literally called “minimal essential coverage” but, she said, it “doesn’t cover much of anything.” Fred Hatef, Local 1008, pointed out that the real issue with healthcare policy, like in many of the other social questions addressed in other resolutions, is “Whether or not we’re going to choose people or we’re going to choose money and profits.” Hatef said, “I think we should choose people in every situation.”
Tim Van Boening, Local 808, related his experiences as a young activist at a previous convention canvassing for Medicare for All. Hannah Melick, Local 1498, reported that her employer, New Mexico State University, does not offer affordable health insurance coverage to graduate workers but forces international graduate workers to pay an extra $1,000 for “the most trash health insurance.”
Donald Quick, Local 150, declared that “Healthcare is a basic right” and that “We all need to be taken care of.”
Defending Public Education
Speaking on the resolution “Stop the Dismantling of Public Education,” Renee Ezell, Local 119, described the struggles of her local’s members, who work for a private contractor in the public schools of Winslow, New Jersey. “We’re not getting the students’ needs met because we’re short-staffed,” she said, and “we can’t keep people because ... the wage is so low and they want you to do so much with so little.”
Ricky Steele, Local 506, described himself as “a proud product of public education,” but decried the current overcrowding in the City of Erie schools. “It’s so important for public schools to be funded. And it’s more important that we open up more public schools so teachers aren’t overwhelmed by class sizes.” Theresa Sochanchak, Local 119, added, “I believe that we need more resources, especially for special education students.”
Lexi Kenis, Local 1466, proposed an amendment to the resolution putting the union on record opposing police in schools, which Mike Giles, Local 506, spoke in favor of. The amendment passed overwhelmingly.
Megan Hedrick, Local 123, and Scott Slawson, Local 506, both spoke on the importance of trade schools and vocational training. “This country was build on manufacturing,” said Hedrick, but Slawson pointed out that manufacturing is facing a “crisis” of not having enough workers with the necessary training and education.
Mike Tomaloff, Local 1186, said that the point of the right-wing demands to ban certain books from public schools “is to make us un-empathetic. ... There’s no room for empathy in capitalism [so] they want to take it out of schools.” Tim Van Boening, Local 808, gave a rousing defense of reading and books.
Hannah Melick, Local 1498, also spoke on the resolution.
“The absolute need to form a working-class party”
The difficult path towards UE members’ vision of a better society for working people was made clear in the resolution, “Independent Political Action,” which declares:
Working people continue to face daily assault. The economic and political attacks and repression against working-class and oppressed communities and organizations have intensified. Organized labor — barely one-tenth of the workforce today — is the last defensive bastion of the working class. Corporate executives, Republican, and corporate Democrat leaders know that if they destroy the union movement, they eliminate the last substantial obstacle to their greedy agenda.
Speaking on this resolution, Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150, said that independent political action doesn’t just take place through elections, “it’s also in the streets.” He recalled how 18 union members got arrested carrying out civil disobedience during the “Moral Mondays” movement challenging an anti-worker state government in North Carolina. “In this crisis we find ourselves in ... we have to use everything necessary, everything that we have available, to fight back, to resist,” he said. “I’m proud of this union because it has done all that”
In his comments on the resolution, Western Region President Bryan Martindale emphasized “the absolute need to form an independent party, a working-class party, a viable third party.”
Antwon Gibson, Local 610, urged locals to get involved in local politics, and workers to “vote for those who are going to stand for you.” Brian Desanto, Local 642, pointed out that the Supreme Court is making dangerous anti-worker decisions like Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. Teamsters, which threatens to curtail workers’ right to strike and was opposed by only one justice, the Biden appointee Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
While Supreme Court justices are unelected, “the people that we elect choose these individuals,” said Desanto. He also condemned President Biden’s decision to block the railroad workers’ strike. “We can’t just take people at their word that they support unions”
Mike Giles, Local 506, Tobias Pace, Local 808, Hannah Melick, Local 1498, and Lexi Kenis, Local 1466, also spoke on the resolution.