Let's hold on to the solidarity we displayed in the 2004 elections

Newton B. Jones, International President

We face many challenges, but working together, we can face them with strength and move forward

IN THIS YEAR’S ELECTIONS, OUR members and our union were more active than in any other election that I can recall. We jumped in early, and we worked hard right up until the last voting precincts closed.

I am enormously proud of the excellent job our Department of Government Affairs did. Director Bridget Martin and her assistants Shannon Brett and Abe Breehey were tireless in tracking the polls, identifying places we might make a difference, and finding members who were willing to work on the campaigns in those areas.

And I must tell you that the work our members did made me even prouder. Every place I traveled, members were volunteering to register voters, work phone banks, hold rallies, and, on Election Day, to watch the polls to make sure that all our votes were counted.

As in every election, not all members wanted us to support the same candidates. But when we polled our local lodges, we found a strong consensus belief that working families were not being heard by the Bush administration, and an equally strong consensus that we should support an opposition candidate for president.

Once our union’s direction was clear, our members pitched in and worked for that goal. That is how solidarity makes us strong, in political campaigns and in all union efforts. We may disagree with each other while deciding on a course of action, but once that course of action has been decided, we support it with the strength of all of our members sticking together.

We entered the 2004 election earlier than we usually do, because we felt we must in order to make sure our voice was heard in what promised to be a hotly contested election.

President Bush was involved in an unpopular war that threatened to dominate the campaign. Although that issue is important, we did not want our government or the nation to forget that the economy is still struggling, that our trade laws are encouraging companies to move jobs overseas, that health care prices are out of control, and that working families are losing ground in dozens of areas that are the direct result of government action.

We can and will work with any government proposal that truly benefits our members.

By your energetic and disciplined involvement in the elections, you were able to keep these issues in front of the candidates and the media.

Many of the candidates we supported did not win, but that is to be expected in politics, as in all union efforts. When we negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, we never get everything we want. But that doesn’t stop us from negotiating the next contract just as strenuously.

We know that unless we negotiate with the full strength and support of all our members, we get nothing.

Our nation was fortunate to be spared the divisive recount fiasco we suffered in 2000. But that does not mean President Bush has a mandate to do whatever he wishes.

He won re-election by the smallest margin of victory of any incumbent since 1828. The nation is still deeply divided, with more than half opposing many of the positions Bush holds most dear. And I assure you that if Bush attempts to move forward in areas we believe will harm our members, we intend to raise our voices in opposition.

But we can and will work with any proposal that we believe truly benefits our members.

One such idea is the Department of Labor’s Drug-free Workplace Partnership. The Boilermakers were among the first unions to join this partnership, and we look forward to working with the other crafts and the DOL’s OSHA in making our workplaces safer by making them drug and alcohol free.

Our Construction Division committed to drug-free workplaces 13 years ago, when our tripartite meetings resulted in the MOST drug-screening program. Our members work in dangerous places and with equipment that can be dangerous if mishandled. There is no room for error.

One study showed that as many as 20 percent of workplace fatalities involve the use of drugs or alcohol.

Drug and alcohol programs are controversial. No one wants his or her government or union deciding what they do for recreation on their own time.

But we have a responsibility to protect our members from harm. When any activity puts our members in danger — whether that danger is economic or physical — we must take action.

When our government’s policies destroy our jobs, we take action. When an employer tries to exploit our members, we take action. And when the actions of our own members pose a threat, we take action as well.

Our Construction Division knows that safety awareness and drug-screening reduce accidents. Since MOST implemented its drug-screening and safety awareness training programs in 1991, the lost-time accident rate for construction Boilermakers has been reduced by 94 percent.

That means thousands of Boilermakers have avoided injury on the job in the past 13 years. The cost savings to our employers can be counted in the hundreds of millions of dollars. More important, thousands of Boilermakers went home to their families, unhurt.

If President Bush is looking for ways to bring this country back together, this drug-free workplace partnership is a good start. Our union can and will work with the Bush administration in this arena.