While Unions have reached a new high in favorability in the United States, they are still battling uphill against a mountain of money from big business and elected officials that they had helped into office. Workers rely on Unions to protect the larger body of workers with safe working conditions and better wages.
However, Unions are currently facing national, constant, and coordinated attacks on worker rights, safety, healthcare and wages. These attacks are coming not only from employers, but also from the Trump administration in Washington. These attacks and a lack of rule enforcement are hurting, and, in some cases, killing American workers.
Lack of meaningful action by OSHA regarding the pandemic has led to surges in cases in the meat and poultry industry. Just last week OSHA issued their first fines of the pandemic against Smithfield and JBS Foods. The fines totaled about $29,000 for the two companies where over 1,500 infections and 12 deaths had occurred. Read that again – $29,000 with over 1,500 people infected, and 12 lost their lives due to the negligence of the companies.
The National Labor Relations Board operated for the first time without bipartisan representation on the board for almost a year. During that time, they overturned countless regulations put into place over the last thirty years, including policies put in place to allow employers to search your personal vehicle as well as punish workers disseminating Union information.
How do workers have a chance to succeed and stay safe where it appears that the deck is stacked against them in Washington? The way workers can move forward is by expanding their support among elected officials who support workers’ rights – and not just elected officials who talk about helping workers at election time, but those who have lived the life of a worker.
There are good examples of elected officials who have been there with workers and for workers. Elected officials like:
- Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston, joined Laborers Local 223 at the age of 21 and worked his way up to being head of the Boston Building Trades.
- Julie Braha, Minnesota State Auditor, former teacher and former Secretary-Treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO
- Jacky Rosen, U.S. Senator from Nevada, former member of the Culinary Workers Local 226
- Stephen Lynch, 8th Congressional District Massachusetts, member and past president Iron Workers Local 7
- Colin Allred, 32nd Congressional District Texas, NFL Players Association
- Tony Navarrete, 30th State Senate District AZ, AFSCME Local 2384
Now more than ever we need people at all levels of government – local, state, and, especially Federal – who will represent real working people from all walks of life. We need representatives who truly understand and will fight for worker protections rather than simply paying lip service to the needs of working people while accepting large donations from their corporate masters.
As a nation we are living under the worst economy we have ever seen. We have experienced the highest unemployment numbers we have ever seen. And, while the economy is slowly starting to rebound, we still have millions of people out of work, and we have nurses, restaurant employees, first responders, meat and poultry workers who do not have the protection at work that they need and deserve.
In Washington, we have an administration led by President Trump and a United States Senate led by Mitch McConnell who are doing nothing to address the employment or employee safety situations. They actually seem to favor allowing businesses to progress with fewer safety measures by insisting that any further COVID-19 relief bills grant immunity for employers. They want to take us back to the Gilded Age, where employers could ignore any and all safety precautions and other protections for the people doing the hard and dangerous work that makes the employers millions – and those who put their health and lives at risk will have no recourse.
During the last year we have seen examples of how real leadership can impact our workers. New York and California are expanding the role and scope of prevailing wages. We have governors in Ohio, Oregon, and Illinois who are defying the lack of leadership in Washington to keep their residents and the workers in those states safe. In Boston, the mayor stood with members of the construction industry to show how a safely run work construction project can be the guide for reopening in a pandemic.
We need to re-elected representatives like Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-1) who is the daughter of a retired union pipefitter/welder who stood on the floor of the Congress and told of the need for a strong prevailing wage, just what that did to help her family growing up, and the impact that made on their lives.
We need to elect Theresa Greenfield who is running for the U.S. Senate in Iowa. Her husband, an IBEW Lineman, was killed on the job. Living through and dealing with that experience has impacted how she views workers and worker safety on the job.
We need to elect Christina Hale to congress in the Indiana 5th. Early in her career as a single mother, she had to make the tough choice to provide health care for her son even when it meant not having it herself. Hale has made rebuilding infrastructure the cornerstone of her campaign to again strengthen our economy.
In Missouri we need to elect State Auditor Nicole Galloway to Governor. Galloway’s great-grandfather worked on the Gateway Arch as a member of Operating Engineers Local 513, and she has numerous uncles, cousins and other family members who are also members of Local 513. In 2018, the citizens of Missouri took a stand against right-to-work for less, and Galloway will be a leader for the workers of that state.
All of these candidates are running in states that Trump won in 2016 but are fighting against the administration for the working men and women that they represent – fighting against an administration that has been hell bent on destroying everything workers in this country and fought to gain for over the last 100 years.
We always hear “this election is the most important of our lifetimes,” but, for workers in this country, especially those who work in the dangerous professions such as construction, coal mining, farming, and health care, this truly may be the election of a lifetime.
We have already seen the most anti-worker federal judges appointed under the Trump administration, judgeships that are lifetime appointments. We have already seen significant rollbacks at the Department of Labor and a total disregard for workers and workers safety at OSHA. We see a stacked Supreme Court that took away the bargaining rights of millions of workers across the country.
Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, also, seem determined to add another notch in their anti-worker court by replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg within weeks after her death. This, after McConnell held up the appointment of a justice to replace Justice Scalia in 2016 for almost a year until after a new president was elected and sworn into office. Charges of hypocrisy mean nothing in the face of such a belligerent power grab.
The Trump administration already has a white paper written on how they plan to change the calculation of the Davis-Bacon wage from a survey to an estimate produced by the Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS). When the BLS determines wages nationally or in a given area they do not take into account anything other than what is on the check.
Why is this important? The BLS wages determinations don’t look at the differences between highway construction and home construction for overall wages; they are all lumped together and then averaged. With Davis-Bacon, the wage paid for the most hours is the one that is used because it is the wage that prevails. The estimates show this would impact worker pay with 50-60% reductions in overall contract wages.
The impacts of these kinds of reductions are real – workers in the construction industry will have to decide if they have health care or earn a living wage, if they have a retirement or can feed their families. We as a nation passed these hurdles 40 and 50 years ago in some industries and we would be pushed right back.
These attacks will continue. The anti-worker forces never sleep, and they never take a step back. This year we will decide if we will go quietly back to before we had healthcare, retirement, and benefits for our families. Are we willing to go back to the days of robber barons, and children working in factories and coal mines? Are we okay with the idea that, in order to feed the family and have a roof over their heads, workers need to put their health and lives in danger every day? Are we going to give back everything that was fought for and died for by our fellow workers over the last 130 years? Nobody has ever just given workers rights, benefits, protections and decent wages. Those have had to be fought for and protected every single day. This election is the biggest and latest front in that war. When you vote, vote like your job depends on it.