Four issues top LEAP agenda

Delegates focus on Free Choice Act, climate change, trade, and shipbuilding

WHEN DELEGATES TO the annual LEAP conference visited their elected representatives this past March, they had a lot on their minds. But four issues were seen as especially important: the Employee Free Choice Act, climate change legislation, a new model for fair trade, and U.S. shipbuilding. All of these issues are vital to Boilermaker jobs or to the ability of unions to compete in a global economy.

Here is a brief overview.

Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

A BIG REASON organized labor has been shrinking is because the current system for forming unions is broken. Many employers insist that a secret election be held. Then they coerce their employees into voting against a union. They often fire employees who lead organizing efforts. And they bring in union-breaking consultants who use dirty tricks to keep unions out. Even when workers succeed in forming a union, their employer may drag out negotiations for a first contract until workers lose interest and the union is decertified. These are problems the Employee Free Choice Act seeks to correct. The EFCA would permit workers to form their own union without having a secret ballot. All that workers would need to create a union is to have a majority of the proposed bargaining unit sign authorization cards, which must be validated by the National Labor Relations Board.

Climate change legislation

CLIMATE CHANGE POSES an enormous challenge around the globe. It also presents a tremendous opportunity for Boilermakers in North America as the demand for pollution control measures and new energy technologies creates more jobs.

The Brotherhood supports the National Commission on Energy Policy’s “slow, stop, and reverse” proposal as a sensible first step in dealing with the problem. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, plans to introduce legislation based on the NCEP proposal. Our union will likely endorse Bingaman’s bill. The legislation calls for lowering our dependence on foreign oil by ramping up the use of renewable energy, investing more in biomass fuels, and offering incentives to companies that develop renewable energy sources and households that use them.

A new model for fair trade

THE BOILERMAKERS UNION believes the current U.S. trade policy is broken and has contributed not only to a staggering $764 billion trade deficit but to the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs.

The fast track approach to trade deals — in which the president negotiates the agreement and Congress can only give an up or down vote without any changes — must be replaced. We need a better negotiating and legislative process for trade.

All trade agreements must have enforceable protections of worker rights, not only in the U.S., but in all countries where we have trade agreements.

U.S. shipbuilding and the defense industrial base

FOR DECADES, THE Jones Act has fostered a competitive U.S. shipbuilding industry and job creation for thousands of U.S. workers. The Act states that ships engaging in coastwise trade — from one U.S. port to another, rather than engaging in international shipping — must meet several conditions. First, major structural components must be built in the United States; second, the ship must be assembled entirely in this country. The Act is intended to protect American shipbuilding capabilities, which are vital especially in times of war and other national emergencies.

However, recent decisions by the U.S. Coast Guard violate the spirit — if not the letter — of “build American” requirements by allowing manufacturing of major components and significant assembly of Jones Act vessels offshore.

Boilermaker delegates at the LEAP conference provided legislators with educational materials and recommendations about the Coast Guard’s poor performance in enforcing the “build American” requirements. At the urging of our union, 30 members of Congress are sending a letter to the Coast Guard critical of its actions.