Passions rise against yet another free trade deal
THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S push for fast track trade authority and new trade deals dominated the Boilermakers’ 2015 LEAP conference discussion May 18-19 in Washington, D.C., as speakers slammed the efforts, calling them disastrous for American jobs.
In his opening remarks, International President Newton B. Jones outlined those issues and others that are important to our union.
(President Obama signed fast track into law June 29 after it passed Congress despite fierce opposition by labor and other groups. The measure allows the president to negotiate free trade deals with foreign countries and then submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Lawmakers are prohibited from offering amendments, no matter how bad the deals might be.)
“Fast track is not only undemocratic, but it also gives the president authority that belongs to Congress under the Constitution,” Jones told LEAP delegates.
He also criticized the administration’s push for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a highly secretive deal negotiated largely by corporate lobbyists and representatives of big banks. The TPP would involve the United States and 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s an absolute trade monstrosity,” he declared. “We cannot afford another Korean Free Trade Deal, we cannot afford another Central America Free Trade Deal, and we sure as hell cannot afford another NAFTA on steroids,” he added.
At press time, the TPP was still being negotiated. The administration is expected to release details of the plan by the end of the year.
Other LEAP issues receive attention
IP JONES ALSO addressed a range of other important issues impacting Boilermaker members. He spoke of the harm to workers and the economy that would result from the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which places tremendous pressure on coal-fired power plants and coal miners. The plan, which has come under intense fire from labor and the energy industry, sets unrealistic carbon emission goals and favors other types of energy sources. Twelve states have sued the EPA over the plan.
He also slammed several provisions of the Affordable Care Act as being unfair to unions with Taft-Hartley labor-management trusts such as the Boilermaker National Health and Welfare Trust. One such provision imposes a three-year tax on existing health care plans, even Taft-Hartley plans, which cannot benefit from insurance markets established under the ACA. Another provision imposes a tax on so-called high value or “Cadillac” plans, starting in 2018. This tax will amount to a 40 percent surcharge on the cost of employer-based health insurance that exceeds certain amounts.
“I can tell you that Boilermakers fully support repealing the Cadillac tax or any tax that takes hard-earned contributions from our members’ plan [and diverts it] to subsidize income from insurance carriers, which is what it does,” Jones said.
Other key lobbying issues he addressed included infrastructure development, protecting the Jones Act (which safeguards U.S. shipbuilding jobs), and changes to pension laws that allow plan trustees, in cases where plans are in deep trouble, to reduce pension amounts paid to existing retirees. He noted that the Boilermakers strongly opposed the legislation. He stressed that the Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust is on solid footing and is on track to reach full green status (the highest rating under the Pension Protection Act) according to plan actuaries.
Delegates hear from guest speakers
GUEST SPEAKERS PROVIDED insights across a range of topics, from politics to legislation to the economy.
Representative Louise Slaughter accepted the 2014 Abe Breehey Legislator of the Year Award. She spoke briefly about her many years of support for organized labor, woman’s causes and other struggles for social justice. (See accompanying story in this issue.)
Barry Bluestone, Professor of Political Economy and Dean of Northeastern University’s School of Social Science, Urban Affairs and Public Policy, gave conference participants a review of economic history in North America since the 1920s. He said the concentration of wealth in the hands a small number of wealthy individuals coupled with too little money for consumers to drive the economy led to the Great Depression.
Professor Bluestone said key pillars of the robust U.S. economy during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s included a strong Labor Movement and government investments in education, technology, infrastructure, and other areas.
He said the United States must return to major government investments and a resurgent Labor Movement if the American economy is to regain its strength in the future.
Representative Duncan Hunter, the Republican congressman from California’s 52nd district, showed why Boilermakers support him in office. A strong proponent of U.S. shipbuilding and the Jones Act, Rep. Hunter also supports the Boilermakers’ position against fast track trade authority.
Mark Pocan, a U.S. representative from the 2nd district of Wisconsin and a union member, likewise showed delegates that when it comes to fast track and the Trans Pacific Partnership, he stands firmly with the Boilermakers and other unions in opposition.
Minnesota Senator Al Franken, also a union member, was not on the LEAP agenda, but he was a shoe-in to get the most laughs as the surprise guest speaker. His wry observations about political life and federal government shenanigans in Washington, D.C., brought comic relief to the serious and often frustrating topic of federal governance. Franken also opposes fast track and TPP.
Delegates take issues to Capitol Hill
INSPIRED BY LEAP speakers and armed with insights and updates from Government Affairs Director Cecile Conroy, Boilermaker delegates representing local lodges across the United States met with their elected representatives and congressional aides to present the interests of our members and their families.
In the offices of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives, Boilermakers sat down to give voice to where we stand on the vital issues of our time. Lobbying elected officials is the ultimate purpose of the annual LEAP conference, and as they have done since 1965, delegates accepted that responsibility and carried out their mission.
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