We must raise our voices to fight for the future.
Delegates met in Washington D.C. for the Boilermakers annual LEAP conference April 25-27 amid a time when the labor movement is gaining momentum across the United States. During the three-day conference, speakers outlined the need for strong labor protections, a balanced energy policy and the need to secure domestic supply chains. Also addressed: cracks in trade policies and offshore manufacturing that have been exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue causing problems across the country.
Due to scheduling conflicts, International Newton B. Jones was unable to attend. IVP-NE John Fultz gave the opening address on behalf of IP Jones.
“After three years it feels great to be together again,” Fultz said.
He said delegates’ work during LEAP is at the heart of what unions have been doing since their beginnings—raising collective voices and standing together for what’s right.
“It’s the work of more than a century of hard-earned labor protections we must continue to fight for, preserve and build upon,” he said.
Fultz called for delegates to advocate for Boilermaker issues, especially energy policy, with sensible approaches to stopping climate change instead of political rhetoric.
“It’s our job this week to help our legislators focus on these issues and understand our position on them,” he said. “No matter what personal political ideology you subscribe to, Boilermaker issues and labor issues are ours together. We must raise our voices to fight for the future. Thank you for stepping up.”
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler welcomed delegates to D.C. and encouraged them to spend time with their members of Congress.
Employers are getting away with violating workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain.
“Your LEAP Conference is happening at exactly the right time. In D.C., the fun never stops,” Shuler said. “We need you here. We need you to bring the voices of your members to Capitol Hill.”
Shuler said there’s a lot going on across the labor movement. And the public is noticing. “We have the wind at our back. We have one of the most pro-union presidents in a long time. We have a president and vice president who are putting working people at the center of policy.”
The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Shuler said will create many good jobs, is an opportunity for organized labor.
“It’s on us to recruit new talent at the community level as these jobs become available,” she said, adding that this bill is an opening to raise wages through its Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirement.
“We need to show them what the union difference means,” Shuler said.
She noted that the AFL-CIO completed a poll of 10,000 nonunion workers and found that half the workforce believes collective action can solve the issues in their workplace. She raised the question that if unions are gaining more public approval, why aren’t we seeing an increase in union membership?
“Employers are getting away with violating workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain,” Shuler said. “They harass people and intimidate them with no more than a slap on the wrist. We need real penalties.”
Shuler called for the passage of the PRO Act, which will help balance the scales between labor and employer.
Addressing climate change, she spoke about the intersection of labor and energy policy.
“The path to a clean energy future goes right through the labor movement,” she said. “Companies are going to need the best talent…and that’s you and your members.”
Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report, gave delegates a run-down on the upcoming midterm elections.
“Every election is unique and every election brings out a new set of issues,” she said. “But things don’t change much in politics.”
She said we are living through a unique era and yet these midterms are similar to other years. “Other presidents went in with majorities in the House and Senate and after the midterms, lost their majority, such as President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.
“We have to go way back to Jimmy Carter, when they kept their majority,” Walter said. “Voters are grading the incumbent party; and right now, the president’s approval rating is around 40 to 43%, at the same place other presidents whose party lost the midterms.”
She said there are three things to look for in elections: intensity, independent voters and the handling of the economy and growing inflation.
“This is a lot for Democrats to get over,” Walter said. “The House and Senate are likely to flip. Was this inevitable? Could Joe [Biden] have done something different?”
She said while “turning the corner on COVID didn’t happen,” all the money coming into the economy for a time helped, but then supply chain issues started, prices increased and a chaotic pull-out from Afghanistan followed.
“Then it became all the things that weren’t done instead of what they had accomplished,” Walter said. “That also helped drag down opinions of the Democratic base.”
There are two wildcards in the upcoming midterms: a Supreme Court decision limiting abortion and the Jan. 6 commission hearings. And, she said, there’s also Donald Trump. “What’s he going to do?”
She cautioned that what “happens in the midterms is not indicative of what will happen in the next election.” She also said that a midterm election doesn’t predict the future and that the next presidential election will be “insane, super crazy. Buckle in, everybody. We’re headed for a bumpy few years.”
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican serving Pennsylvania’s first district, spoke about his support of the infrastructure bill and the PRO Act. As a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Fitzpatrick signed onto the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. He lobbied to get work for the Philly Shipyard, and Boilermakers have directly benefited from that.
“The [infrastructure] bill is very good and it’s going to create a lot of jobs for the next five years,” Fitzpatrick said. “We don’t allow perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
He said the focus of the Problem Solvers Caucus is on the 75% they agree on, not the 25% they don’t. “We hope to grow that caucus, because a democracy is a fragile thing. If you love the United States of America you have to love the people who built it. I view you as the heart and soul of the USA.”
Director of Government Affairs Cecile Conroy opened her overview of issues important to Boilermakers and gave an illustration on the power of lobbying.
“We’ve had some changes since we met in 2019. We don’t have to lobby on health care anymore. It took us about 10 years to get that Cadillac Tax ended,” she said. “Same thing with the pension fix we got done last year. Pensions now have the tools to save themselves, in part because of you going up there lobbying and talking to your members of Congress every year. You keep at it until you get the result you want.”
She said the slate of issues in front of delegates at this year’s conference included trade and manufacturing, the PRO Act, energy policy and the perennial push to protect the Jones Act and American shipbuilding.
With energy policy, Conroy said the U.S. can create good jobs by investing in a clean energy future with an “all of the above” energy policy that includes advanced energy technologies such as carbon capture, use and storage. While energy is a timeless issue, the PRO Act has a clock ticking.
“Time is running out on the PRO Act,” Conroy said. “It’s so critical to not wait on a positive election outcome. This has to get done before November. I can’t press upon you how important this is.”
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