Regardless Who Is President, Our Union's Mission Remains The Same

Charles W. Jones, International President Emeritus

We must fight for labor law reform so working families get a fair break

The presidential election took place three weeks ago, yet we still don't have a winner. The closest election in more than 100 years has spawned an electoral tangle that may take months to resolve.

Both candidates claim that their lawsuits and legal wrangling are merely attempts to ensure that the results of the election reflect "the will of the people."

Where were these politicians in October, when four senators denied the will of the people and of Congress by blocking passage of the Railroad Retirement & Survivors Improvement Act of 2000?

Few bills that come before Congress so clearly show "the will of the people" as this one. Railway employers and the unions that represent railway workers had worked on it for years and strongly supported the final version. The House of Representatives passed it by a margin of 391-25, and 83 senators co-sponsored it. Yet Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) refused to let the matter come to the floor for a vote.

Apparently, Lott had been persuaded by Senators Pete Dominici (R-NM), Phil Gramm (R-TX), and Don Nickles (R-OK) to block the bill, despite its overwhelming support by the railway carriers and employers -- the people who pay the bill for railway retirement and benefit from it.

These senators did not care about "the will of the people." They opposed the bill for ideological reasons. They want to privatize the Railroad Retirement System, just as they want to privatize the Social Security System. There is no point in improving a system that you intend to destroy.

Needless to say, their stance on privatization does not reflect the will of the people, either. Polls consistently show that most American workers do not want to see either system privatized.

Senator Gramm may also have had a selfish reason for killing the bill. Washington insiders say he is being considered for Secretary of the Treasury if Gov. Bush wins the presidency. The reform bill would have required transfers of Railroad Retirement funds from the U.S. Treasury to the new Railroad Retirement Trust Fund. Those transfers could be scored as a reduction in assets on the federal books. If Bush is elected and makes Gramm Secretary of the Treasury, Gramm wants to have those assets on the federal books in order to pay for Bush's multi-trillion-dollar tax cut for the wealthy.

The fate of the Railroad Retirement & Survivors Act is but one of many examples of how many elected officials routinely ignore the will of the people. They have their own agenda, and for many, the will of the working people of America does not fit into it.

That is why your union is so important. Unions are the only voice workers have -- not only with employers at the bargaining table, but also with politicians in Washington, D.C., in Ottawa, and in state, provincial, and local governments across the U.S. and Canada.

More than any politician, unions represent the "will of the people." The union's mission is always the same: to fight for the economic well-being of workers -- higher wages, better benefits, more jobs, Social Security, and Medicare. No other person or group has that same purpose. It is our mission, and it is our only mission.

Regardless of who controls Congress or the White House, our mission remains the same. We fight to protect your jobs, to raise your wages, to make your job sites safe, and to keep Social Security and Medicare strong.

To be effective, both with our employers and in politics, we grow with the economy, adding new members as new technologies change the types of work Americans do. And that means we must continue to fight for labor law reform so that workers can form unions without fear of being fired.

We will have a tough time getting any labor law reform through this Congress. It is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and between our friends and those who work against us.

But we have what politicians who want to be re-elected need: organized voters who go to the polls and take their families with them. In this year's election, unionized workers demonstrated our power to influence elections at all levels, including president, where Al Gore won nearly every state with a highly-unionized workforce.

Congress will not forget that.

We must not let them forget. We need to make politicians realize that when workers are on their side, re-election is a whole lot simpler.

That is how we can make gains even in a deeply-divided Congress. By sticking to our mission.

By sticking together.