Boilermaker members are taking political action

Newton B. Jones, International President

This year's elections are too important to ignore

ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES, Boilermakers are getting involved in political action at a greater level than I remember ever seeing.

Members are taking the Boilermaker message to rallies, marches, and meetings. They are knocking on doors to urge workers to vote this November for candidates who stand up for our jobs as well as our rights.

They are raising money for the Boilermakers Campaign Assistance Fund, raising awareness of issues that affect our families, and registering their friends and neighbors to vote.

These members understand the importance of politics to our daily lives.

Quite simply, the government can determine whether we fully enjoy the fruits of our labors or constantly struggle to get by.

Your union can only negotiate collective bargaining agreements with employers. What those employers have to offer — and how willing they are to share — is determined by government policies, such as trade regulations, government spending, and tax laws.

Right now, many Boilermaker members and their families are suffering because of the current administration’s approach to the economy, the environment, and trade.

First, there are the three million jobs that have disappeared since George W. Bush took office in 2001.

The administration says their policies are now creating jobs, but in July, only 32,000 new jobs were created. At that rate, it will take us nearly eight years to get back to where we were at the end of the Clinton presidency.

And those new jobs do not pay as well as the old ones. A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 57 percent of displaced workers who are lucky enough to find jobs are earning less than before. One-third of them are earning at least 20 percent less.

The administration’s stance on outsourcing — sending jobs overseas — has not helped. Their chief economic advisor has called outsourcing “a good thing.” I don’t think laid-off workers believe that moving from good-paying manufacturing jobs to lower-paying service industry jobs is “a good thing.”

And I doubt that the ones who are still unemployed or who have given up trying to find work would call it a good thing. Fifteen percent of displaced workers simply give up looking for work, opting for early retirement at greatly reduced rates — or forced to live off relatives.

Our Construction Division Boilermakers enjoyed a strong job market in the last few years of the Clinton administration, largely because Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was aggressively enforcing the Clean Air Act. Construction Boilermakers build the SCRs and other units that clean the air at power generation plants. Under Bush, the EPA has backed off, and so has our SCR work.

The EPA is not alone. Under the current administration, federal agencies that were created to protect workers appear to be working, instead, to benefit employers at the expense of workers.

For example, the Department of Labor (DOL) recently changed some regulations so that employers can reclassify over eight million workers, making them ineligible for the time and-a-half premium paid for overtime.

The DOL claims they are actually expanding overtime pay to a couple of hundred thousand workers who were ineligible under the old definitions. But their claim to be looking out for the best interests of workers is undermined by a workshop they offer that shows employers how to avoid paying overtime under the new regulations.

The DOL has also enacted new regulations for how unions report their expenditures, regulations that make the process more complex and time-consuming than ever — and more difficult than necessary. These new rules do not offer a single benefit to union members, but they will cost unions an estimated $1 billion a year extra in recordkeeping expenses.

This list could go on.

The government’s impact on our jobs, pay, benefits, and lifestyles is enormous, and in recent years, hundreds of decisions by the president, Congress, and government agencies have weakened unions, destroyed jobs, and eroded the ability of workers to take care of our families.

Neither this president nor the majority of the members of Congress seems to care what happens to working families. It would be easy for workers to become disheartened, to decide that the game is rigged against us and we will never win.

But our members do not seem to be disheartened. They seem fired up.

Nearly every day I hear of another political activity our members have participated in, another effort to use the power of our millions of votes to elect more worker-friendly candidates to public office.

Often, our members are the leaders and sponsors of these efforts. Always, they take part with determination and optimism.

Your vote cannot be counted unless you cast it

I AM GREATLY ENCOURAGED by the efforts of these dedicated members. The November elections are rapidly approaching. We need to get our members, families, neighbors, and friends registered to vote and make sure they understand the issues and candidates well enough to vote for candidates who will help working families.

I want to share with you an E-mail that was forwarded to me by one of my staff. It was written by Lee Mills, a member of Local 433 and Vietnam veteran. Lee sent this E-mail to every Boilermaker whose E-mail address he had.

Watching the Democratic National Convention on television, Lee was inspired by the thousands of people who dedicate their time and money to this important part of the political process. He wrote:

“It made me reflect on something I experienced after the 2000 election. I was working in New York City with about 34 other union Boilermakers. As the results came in and we discovered that there was a problem with the count, I asked, ‘How many of you guys voted?’

“Some said they didn’t have time, some said they were working out of town, and some said their votes wouldn’t count anyway. Only one guy from New Jersey said, ‘I voted.’

“Well, I voted, too. So that means, only two union Boilermakers out of 35 even bothered to cast their vote. There’s really no excuse for not voting. Your vote won’t count, if you don’t cast it.”

Lee sent out this E-mail because he doesn’t want to see another election like the one in 2000. You can complain about the Supreme Court and hanging chads and butterfly ballots, but the fact is that the official tally gave Florida — and the presidency — to Bush by just over 500 votes. There were enough nonvoting union members in Florida to have given Gore the presidency.

Even today, many of our members are not even registered to vote. Yet registering to vote is easy in every state. If you aren’t registered, do it today. You cannot vote unless you are registered. If you need help registering, contact your local lodge or the local office of the AFL-CIO.

Many of our members will be working out of town on Nov. 2, but that shouldn’t stop them from voting. Every state provides an easy method for voting by absentee ballot. In many states, you can simply cast your ballot before you leave town. In others, they will mail you a ballot. Again, if you need help, your local lodge or the AFL-CIO office can help.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you want democracy to work for you, you need to get involved in the process. At the very least, register and vote.

The time to protect your job is now. Register and vote.