Elections create opportunity

Newton B. Jones, International President

THIS YEAR’S ELECTIONS were a welcome change for the United States — and one that was a long time coming. Pro-worker candidates took many House and Senate seats away from incumbents who have done little to help working families. I was particularly gratified to see that the seat formerly held by Tom DeLay has gone to a pro-labor Democrat.

Candidates friendly to labor unions and working families also won many open seats. Despite the media’s attention on Iraq, exit polls show that economic issues were a major factor in voters’ decision making.

With majorities in the House and Senate, the Democratic party will now have the opportunity to redirect the legislative agenda of the nation.

But don’t expect too much. At least not right away. President Bush has two more years in office, and the Democrats do not have enough votes to override a veto. The issues on the table and the tone of the debate will change, but how these will translate into laws, budgets, and policies remains to be seen. Veto threats and procedural stalling are effective tools for creating gridlock.

And we cannot overlook the pro-business appointments President Bush has made to every government agency that regulates unions or protects workers — agencies such as OSHA and the NLRB. Expecting these appointees to adopt a more pro-labor approach to doing business is unrealistic. We need to replace them, and that won’t happen until we have a pro-labor president.

Candidates seeking the White House in 2008 cannot ignore union families.

Nonetheless, I am cautiously optimistic that we may begin to see some progress in the areas most critical to Boilermakers and other working families. And the strong showing by unions in the campaigns and by pro-labor candidates in the elections is a good sign for 2008. In all states, unions delivered votes, and in some states they were the deciding factor. It would be a mistake for anyone seeking the White House in 2008 to ignore union families.

In the meantime, your union will return to what we do best — representing our members in the workplace and the halls of government, where we now have some new friends to call on.

Union's role is growing

In the past we have measured the effectiveness of union representation mainly by looking at the wages and benefits our members earn.

And that yardstick shows that unions have been effective.

In 2005, the wage advantage for union workers was nearly 30 percent over nonunion. The average weekly wage of union workers was $801; nonunion workers earned only $622 on average. In many of the industries represented by the Boilermakers — construction, production, and industrial maintenance — the wage difference was even greater.

Union workers also received more benefits than nonunion workers. Only 16 percent of nonunion workers have access to a guaranteed (defined-benefit) pension; 73 percent of union workers enjoy that benefit. Boilermakers whose employers participate in the Boilermaker-Blacksmith pension enjoy one of the most generous guaranteed pensions available.

But better wages and more benefits come at a price to those who benefit from union labor. And the yardstick used to measure corporate effectiveness is profit.

The Boilermakers have long recognized that one responsibility we have as a union is to help our employers remain profitable and competitive.  The more money our employers make, the more success we have at the bargaining table. And when our employers fail, our members lose jobs. When they cannot compete, our members cannot work.

The MOST tripartite conference and the tripartite approach to problem solving have grown from our commitment to ensure that the construction industry can and will employ our members. The many cost-saving programs now administered by MOST are testimony to our commitment to keep our members working — and their wages high.

Programs like these are not possible in a nonunion environment. They typify the progressive approach our union is taking to representing our members.

Our effort to re-open the closed shipyard in Toledo is another good example. It is likely that without union assistance, that shipyard would never have reopened.

Our union’s founders were among the most progressive organizers of their day, but I don’t think they would have envisioned a day when union reps would help businesses get started in order to create jobs for members. 

I believe that the future success of the union movement will be determined largely by our willingness to engage in activities like these. We cannot leave economic development entirely to corporations and the government.

To keep our seat at the bargaining table, we must help keep our employers in business.