THIS TIME OF YEAR, we often remind our members that the only reason workers now enjoy weekends off and paid holidays is because of the efforts of union organizers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, employers like Ebenezer Scrooge were not the exception, they were the rule.
Only when workers organized into unions, were we able to use our collective strength to convince employers to reduce the hours we work each week, to grant us paid holidays and vacations, and to make our job sites safer. That is an historical fact we must not forget.
But many workers are tempted to think of it as “only” an historical fact. That is a mistake. Collective action through unions is still the most powerful force working for the betterment of working families. Every day we see evidence that union action can protect workers and make our lives better.
Unions not only gave us the paid days off that we enjoy as we celebrate our holidays this time each year, but through collective action we keep alive the spirit of these holidays. Christmas and the other winter holidays we celebrate are a time for family and a time for giving. They are a time when we renew our bonds with the people around us and pledge, through our generous actions as well as our loving words, to help each other through the cold and dark days ahead.
Our willingness to help our family and our neighbors through difficult times is what underlies the strength of union action. Union actions rely on our ability to love our neighbors. We join unions out of self-interest, but if they are to work, we must be willing to help protect our neighbors and co-workers in their times of need. Only when we work together for the benefit of all our members does collective action work.
This year has been a tough one for many Boilermaker members across the United States and Canada. We have struggled with plant closings and threatened closings, with lockouts, and with anti-union government policies. In the Southeast, many of our members are continuing to struggle with the aftermath of a series of hurricanes which, together, constitute perhaps the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States.
Through all these times of difficulty,our members and their families have benefited and continue to benefit from the collective action of union members.
Last February, the sale of FortHoward Steel Inc. to Nucor Inc. forced the closing of a plant that employed 46 members of Local 177, Green Bay, Wis.
For unorganized workers, that would have been the end of the matter. They would have been on the street, looking for work at a time of high unemployment. But Fort Howard Steel employees had a union and they had Len Gunderson, an International rep. who does not give up easily. With help from the International, Gunderson and Local 177 President Robert Haworth found a new owner for the plant, and now workers there have a new contract.
They owe their jobs to union action.
In March, 190 Boilermakers working at Wabash Alloys in Indiana were locked out by their employer. The same thing happened in June to 200 Boilermakers at the Celanese plant in Meredosia, Ill. Their struggles are on going, and victory is far from certain, but in the meantime these Boilermakers are eligible for victimization benefits from the Brotherhood’s Defense Fund while they fight for their jobs.
Another benefit of union action.
Throughout the year, dozens of grievances are settled to the satisfaction of our members. The few that are mentioned in the Reporter are the tip of the iceberg. Every year, hundreds of contracts are renewed, ensuring that those workers not only remain employed, but that their employers must treat them fairly in accord with the collective bargaining agreement.
More benefits of union action.
In the Southeast, after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma destroyed homes and businesses over a five-state area, Boilermaker members were not the only ones who benefited from the collective action of our members. The International and local lodges took immediate action to help everyone they could reach, bringing in relief supplies and helping people get back on their feet. Thousands of hurricane survivors benefited from our actions.
When President Bush suspended Davis-Bacon in the hurricane-afflicted areas, our members told Congress workers in that region need the paycheck protection that law provides, and we prevailed. Collective action at work.
To all Boilermaker members and their families, I wish the warmest of greetings in this holiday season. It is your collective strength that gives this great union the power to fight on behalf of all Boilermaker families.
We do not win every battle, but we win most, and every victory we enjoy means life is better for us all.
For me, that is the holiday spirit.