Delegates attend the 49th Annual LEAP conference in Washington, D.C., April 23-26.
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D.C. in turmoil under ‘political neophyte’
MORE THAN 100 DELEGATES attending the Boilermakers’ 49th Annual LEAP Conference in Washington, D.C., April 23-26, found themselves in a city still reeling from the election of Republican Donald Trump and the uncertainties of a polarizing president who has promised major changes to the country’s direction.
The LEAP (Legislative Education Action Program) conference is put on each year by the Boilermakers’ Department of Government Affairs to promote political action and provide a springboard for union leaders to lobby Congress. During each conference, delegates hear from lawmakers, policy experts and other speakers before visiting their senators and representatives on Capitol Hill.
International President Newton B. Jones opened the 2017 conference with an assessment of the new Trump administration.
“We have a new president who is both a political neophyte and an enigma,” he said. “On the one hand, he expresses a desire to end unfair trade deals, rebuild our infrastructure, expand our naval fleet, make things in America again, and reign in excessive EPA regulations.”
Those positions are “music to our ears,” Jones noted. But achieving those aims will require more than just actions by the White House, he said. Legislation must clear Congress and may face judicial challenges, so success is far from guaranteed.
Other aspects of Trump’s administration are troubling, Jones stressed.
“President Trump has configured an administration that includes Wall Street Bankers and corporate moguls — people who have demonstrated they are either indifferent to or hostile toward organized labor and the needs of workers. And he has placed a conservative judge on the Supreme Court.”
Jones added that conservatives in Congress and in state houses are “raising their battle flags to enact national right-to-work legislation, to eliminate Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections, to end project labor agreements, to handcuff union organizers and to weaken OSHA protections.”
Ornstein explains dysfunctional politics
LEAP KEYNOTE SPEAKER Norm Ornstein, a political commentator, journalist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, discussed the current state of politics in the United States and the bitter partisanship that has strangled cross-party cooperation. He said “angry populism,” in which voters distrust people in power and at times rise up to oppose them, “is part of our DNA” as a nation. It was angry populism, he said, that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency.
Ornstein noted that while political polarization is not new, adversarial lawmakers in the past still worked together to pass legislation. Today, however, the nation is gripped by what he called “partisan tribalism.” Ornstein explained that “tribalism fundamentally is [an attitude that] ‘if you’re for it, I’m against it – even if I was for it yesterday.’”
Populism and tribalism have led the nation into what Ornstein described as uncharted territory where we have a president who has no government experience and a Congress that refuses to work cooperatively on the nation’s business.
Bustos calls for job creation, improving healthcare
REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D-Illinois 17th) spoke about the need for Congress to support energy projects and fix the Affordable Care Act.
She said pipelines in general – and not just the big projects like Keystone XL — are important to jobs.
“Let’s look at the millions of miles of pipeline that are beneath the ground right now and see what we can do to make sure those are up to the standard of the newer ones.” She noted that Congress is too focused on controversial projects like Keystone and not enough on long-term job creation.
Addressing health care, Bustos said initial health care reform backed by President Trump’s and House Speaker Paul Ryan would have been the “greatest transfer of wealth in the history of our country — $600 billion — from working men and women to the ultra-wealthy.”
She said it’s important to eliminate the Cadillac Tax (a 40 percent excise tax on annual premiums, leveled against most employer-sponsored health care), which hurts working families.
Joyce urges more infrastructure spending
REP. DAVID JOYCE (R-Ohio 14th) spoke about the need for funding to put the U.S. to work and improve the country’s infrastructure.
“Last year China spent $100 billion in other countries building infrastructure,” said Joyce. “Here in America, we’d be lucky to [invest] $58 billion a year for the next four years.”
Joyce said he wished the president would have addressed infrastructure first instead of a health care, because he would have had a receptive audience. He said members of both parties care deeply about the county’s infrastructure, and “making sure that the best and brightest, like [the Boilermakers], do the work. It’s important that we rebuild America.”
Joyce also criticized the Cadillac Tax. He said if it isn’t repealed there will be companies that will do less for their employees to keep costs down. “That’s a race to the bottom...”
Angielski outlines fossil fuel messaging
SHANNON ANGIELSKI, A principal with the law firm of Van Ness Feldman and Executive Director of the Carbon Utilization Research Council, explained CURC’s perspective on promoting fossil fuel use, stressing the need for carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) technologies.
She called the U.S. electric energy system, with its low cost and high reliability, “an economic engine” that has been a major factor in global competitiveness. The role of fossil fuels in powering that engine needs to be communicated to policy makers, she said.
Angielski called on delegates to tell Congress that federal funding for research and development and regulatory reform are essential for the United States to develop CCUS technologies domestically and lead the global market. She stressed that CCUS must be applied to industrial emission sources, not just power generation facilities.
Drake blasts NAFTA
AFL-CIO TRADE POLICY Specialist Celeste Drake briefed delegates on trade issues, including the North American Free Trade Agreement. Drake said NAFTA gave corporations more rights than workers, and it cost jobs, suppressed wages and hurt unions.
“It’s not an accident that union density in the U.S. has fallen, and it’s harder to organize a new plant,” said Drake, who noted that wages stagnated in the U.S., Canada and in Mexico because of NAFTA. “Corporations have the real power in NAFTA; workers don’t.”
Drake said President Trump has taken tiny steps on NAFTA and trade, mainly ordering studies and promoting a “Buy American” policy, but he has done nothing that will change what’s going on in our economy. Official NAFTA re-negotiations have yet to start.
“It’s our job to make sure that the Wall Street guys in the White House that want to do the same things they’ve always been doing don’t win [and that unions] have more influence than the Wall Street folks.”
Channon examines CETA
CORY CHANNON, ASSISTANT Director for the Construction Sector in Canada, raised concerns about CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and European Union, warning of its detriment to the Canadian Labour Movement.
CETA, which will likely take effect in July, will require the Canadian government to “treat European Union companies as if they were Canadian,” said Channon. CETA also allows for mutual recognition agreements, which “lets low-wage European companies compete on the same footing as Canadian employers,” he said.
Channon said CETA will likely devalue apprenticeship and certification systems, compromise jurisdictional agreements, lower safety standards, and threaten the jobs and living standards of Canadian Boilermakers.
He called for fellow Canadians to contact their members of Parliament and argue for industry-based exclusions to CETA, and to monitor and intervene in Mutual Recognition Agreements between trading partners.
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