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Unions Keep Holiday Spirit Alive

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Newton B. Jones
International President

THIS TIME OF YEAR, we often remind our members that the only reason
workers now enjoy weekends off and paid holidays is because of the
efforts of union organizers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the
early decades of the Industrial Revolution, employers like Ebenezer
Scrooge were not the exception, they were the rule.

Only when workers organized into unions, were we able to use our
collective strength to convince employers to reduce the hours we work
each week, to grant us paid holidays and vacations, and to make our job
sites safer. That is an historical fact we must not forget.

But many workers are tempted to think of it as “only” an
historical fact. That is a mistake. Collective action through unions is
still the most powerful force working for the betterment of working
families. Every day we see evidence that union action can protect
workers and make our lives better.

Unions not only gave us the paid days off that we enjoy as we
celebrate our holidays this time each year, but through collective
action we keep alive the spirit of these holidays. Christmas and the
other winter holidays we celebrate are a time for family and a time for
giving. They are a time when we renew our bonds with the people around
us and pledge, through our generous actions as well as our loving words,
to help each other through the cold and dark days ahead.

Our willingness to help our family and our neighbors through
difficult times is what underlies the strength of union action. Union
actions rely on our ability to love our neighbors. We join unions out of
self-interest, but if they are to work, we must be willing to help
protect our neighbors and co-workers in their times of need. Only when
we work together for the benefit of all our members does collective
action work.

This year has been a tough one for many Boilermaker members across
the United States and Canada. We have struggled with plant closings and
threatened closings, with lockouts, and with anti-union government
policies. In the Southeast, many of our members are continuing to
struggle with the aftermath of a series of hurricanes which, together,
constitute perhaps the greatest natural disaster in the history of the
United States.

Through all these times of difficulty,our members and their families
have benefited and continue to benefit from the collective action of
union members.

Last February, the sale of FortHoward Steel Inc. to Nucor Inc. forced
the closing of a plant that employed 46 members of Local 177, Green Bay,
Wis.

For unorganized workers, that would have been the end of the matter.
They would have been on the street, looking for work at a time of high
unemployment. But Fort Howard Steel employees had a union and they had
Len Gunderson, an International rep. who does not give up easily. With
help from the International, Gunderson and Local 177 President Robert
Haworth found a new owner for the plant, and now workers there have a
new contract.

They owe their jobs to union action.

In March, 190 Boilermakers working at Wabash Alloys in Indiana were
locked out by their employer. The same thing happened in June to 200
Boilermakers at the Celanese plant in Meredosia, Ill. Their struggles
are on going, and victory is far from certain, but in the meantime these
Boilermakers are eligible for victimization benefits from the
Brotherhood’s Defense Fund while they fight for their jobs.

Another benefit of union action.

Throughout the year, dozens of grievances are settled to the
satisfaction of our members. The few that are mentioned in the Reporter
are the tip of the iceberg. Every year, hundreds of contracts are
renewed, ensuring that those workers not only remain employed, but that
their employers must treat them fairly in accord with the collective
bargaining agreement.

More benefits of union action.

In the Southeast, after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma destroyed
homes and businesses over a five-state area, Boilermaker members were
not the only ones who benefited from the collective action of our
members. The International and local lodges took immediate action to
help everyone they could reach, bringing in relief supplies and helping
people get back on their feet. Thousands of hurricane survivors
benefited from our actions.

When President Bush suspended Davis-Bacon in the hurricane-afflicted
areas, our members told Congress workers in that region need the
paycheck protection that law provides, and we prevailed. Collective
action at work.

To all Boilermaker members and their families, I wish the warmest of
greetings in this holiday season. It is your collective strength that
gives this great union the power to fight on behalf of all Boilermaker
families.

We do not win every battle, but we win most, and every victory we
enjoy means life is better for us all.

For me, that is the holiday spirit.

Reporter  V44N5
Published on the Web: June 15, 2007

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