IP Newton Jones calls right-to-work “a cancer that eats away at union strength.”
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Event highlights organizing efforts, among other topics
THE BOILERMAKERS’ 2015 Industrial Sector Operations (ISO) Conference drew several hundred delegates from across North America to the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas August 3-7. The meeting provided opportunities to learn from guest speakers and breakout session presenters, and to network with lodge leaders from other regions and industries.
International President Newton B. Jones delivered the opening address, reminding delegates of the many challenges facing organized labor today, from unfair trade agreements to right to work initiatives, which he called “a cancer that eats away at union strength.”
He said organizing is essential to combat right to work and restore the middle class. He cited several recent Boilermaker organizing successes: Steel Fab employees in Virginia (who recently ratified their first contract as Local 2014); tugboat employees at Quadrant Towing in British Columbia (becoming members of Local Lodge D400); and construction equipment makers employed at Terex in Minnesota. Workers at both Quadrant Towing and Terex faced extraordinary — and illegal — employer resistance that led to successful legal challenges by the union.
Jones told delegates that the Brotherhood is developing new tools to support the union’s organizing efforts, including updated brochures and a dedicated web page and video. To achieve a broader outreach, materials will be produced in multiple languages, he noted.
Global union resists multinational corporations
MATTHIAS HARTWICH, Director of IndustriALL Global Union’s Mechanical Engineering and Materials Industries sectors, headquartered in Switzerland, discussed the need for workers around the world to come together to resist multinational corporations that abuse and exploit workers.
His presentation included a chilling photograph of two Bangladeshi garment makers crushed to death in 2013 when an eight-story factory collapsed at Rana Plaza, killing more than 1,130 workers and injuring over 2,500. Those workers, who made less than 25 cents an hour, were forced to work even though cracks had appeared in the building’s foundation, causing tenants on lower floors to vacate the premises.
Hartwich said the cold indifference to worker safety and welfare illustrated by that disaster is not uncommon, especially in poorer nations with developing economies.
He stressed that multinational corporations often move work where it is cheapest and worker protections are weakest. Those same companies help write trade deals that leave workers out and deny them a safe workplace, the right to bargain collectively, job security and living wages. It takes global unions to pressure multinational corporations to do the right thing, he said.
“If we don’t stop this in Bangladesh or India or Indochina, this will come back [to developed countries like those in the European Union or in North America]. It’s a race to the bottom. That is why IndustriALL Global Union wants to make a difference.”
Hartwich thanked the Boilermakers union for being involved in IndustriALL Global Union. IP Jones serves as chairman of the organization’s Materials Sector, and the IBB participates in various conferences and activities.
Chosewood promotes total worker health programs
DR. CASEY CHOSEWOOD, Director of the Office for Total Worker Health at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke about the relationship between health at home and health on the job.
Chosewood explained that a health issue or crisis at home is not left behind when a person goes to work. Likewise, unhealthy work practices or job crises don’t stay at the workplace when an employee goes home. He said that without a supporting mechanism to address the situation, complications could develop, leading to escalating problems like illnesses or dangerous behavior.
That’s why on-the-job programs that promote total worker health are so important, Chosewood said. Such programs make it easier for workers to choose better health practices such as exercising and eating better. In essence, he said, workers can go home in a healthier state than when they arrived on the job.
Chosewood stressed, however, that forcing a total worker health program on workers is not a good approach. Instead, workers must be brought into the process early on so they can participate in its creation and take ownership in the program.
Motivational speaker Wynn brings insights, laughter
GARRISON WYNN, A popular motivational speaker and presenter on leadership skills, informed and entertained ISO delegates with stories and examples of effective — and ineffective — behavior at work.
He discussed how people from different generations often fail to communicate or understand one another, because they have substantially different life experiences and expectations. Effective leaders, he said, anticipate those generational differences and approach communications by taking them into account.
Wynn used role-playing techniques to illustrate how leaders can fail to communicate successfully.
Ault discusses large industrial organizing in the South
RON AULT, PRESIDENT of the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department, told delegates about the opportunities and challenges of organizing large industrial employers in the South.
He spoke about the ongoing, three-year effort of the Metal Trades to organize a shipyard in Mobile, Ala., where Australian company Austal builds Littoral Combat Ships for the U.S. Navy. The Boilermakers and other Metal Trade affiliates are part of the effort to organize the firm’s 4,200 employees. With a 40 percent annual turnover at Austal, maintaining an internal organizing committee at the yard is difficult, Ault said.
Taking on the challenges of organizing Austal and other large industrial employers requires developing new approaches and collaboration among unions and their allies, he said. He noted that the South is experiencing the highest level of industrial growth in the nation, with 700,000 jobs created since 2010.
Efforts to unionize many of those workers will require strategic targeting, greater involvement in the community, the assistance of union investors, strong communications and education initiatives, and “thinking outside the box,” he said.
Markell describes state of U.S. manufacturing
IN RECENT DECADES, manufacturing jobs in the United States have been devastated by economic recessions and terrible trade deals, according to Brad Markell, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council and Chairman of the federation’s Energy Taskforce. While that may not be news, it could get even worse if the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal goes into effect, he said.
Markell said the deal contains provisions that would allow other nations to bring their workers to U.S. soil to compete for jobs that should go to Americans and would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States if they perceive U.S. laws and regulations prevent them from conducting business or making a profit.
Markell said that between 2000 and 2010, 46 percent of private sector jobs in Michigan, one of the most manufacturing intense states in the nation, were lost. A former United Auto Worker, he noted that in the last two years, $20 billion in auto manufacturing investment has either started or been announced in Mexico.
“It used to be said that there are certain things they [corporations] can’t move to Mexico” because of the skills and training required to do the work. “First, wire harness assembly went to Mexico because it is labor intensive work. Then it became auto assembly. Then it became engines. Then transmissions. Now they’re assembling airplanes.”
Brown closes event with call for organizing assistance
ISO EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Tyler Brown, who emceed the weeklong conference, closed the event by telling delegates, “We have proven that we have skilled and effective organizers who can win organizing campaigns. All we need to do is find them leads so they can go out there and get the job done.”
He added, “That’s where you can help. Although 93 percent of the private sector may be unorganized, that does not mean that 93 percent of private sector workers do not need us.
“They do need us, and it is incumbent upon each and every one of us in this room to do our part to go out there and help them. Each and every one of you is a testament to what unions do for working people. We must share our story so people can know the true benefits of unionism.”