LEAP announces 2009 legislative issues

Delegates will discuss priorities on Capitol Hill

BOILERMAKER DELEGATES FROM across the nation will meet in Washington, D. C., March 16-20 to seek congressional support for key issues during the 41st annual Legislative Education-Action Program (LEAP) conference.

The Department of Government Affairs plans and presents the conference. Members attend educational sessions, hear guest speakers, and attend meetings in U.S. House and Senate offices with their elected representatives or congressional aides. This year’s key legislative issues are summarized below.

Pass the Employee Free Choice Act

THE BEST WAY to grow wages and restore the middle class is to create a level playing field for workers who want to join a union. But for too long, the balance of power in the workplace has been tilted against workers.

The Employee Free Choice Act would reform labor law to restore workers’ ability to form unions and get a first contract free from the threat of employer reprisals.

Under the current law, employers have the upper hand. They can demand a secret ballot election run by the National Labor Relations Board. The election process can be cumbersome and take months, allowing the employer time to coerce and intimidate workers — even fire employees who lead the organizing effort. Many employers hire union-busting firms to keep unions out. Even if workers endure the intimidation and vote in the union, an employer may delay negotiating a first contract in hopes of defeating the union.

The Employee Free Choice Act would enable workers to organize by a simple majority sign-up. It would take the decision of whether to hold a secret election out of the hands of the employer and place it with the workers themselves. The Act would also provide for mediation and binding arbitration should the two parties fail to agree on a first contract. Finally, the Act would impose stricter penalties on employers who break the law and violate worker rights, including civil fines up to $20,000.

Protect Defined Benefit Pensions

IT’S NOT JUST Wall Street that is feeling the pain of our current economic crisis. The sinking stock market and growing financial crisis threaten the retirement security of millions of workers who rely on defined benefit pensions.

Last December, the Boilermakers joined with an alliance of unions, U.S. corporations, and other organizations to urge Congress to modify the Pension Protection Act (PPA) of 2006. The Act is intended to safeguard pensions. It put in place tight funding rules to account for the costs of future benefit payments. But those rules are overly strict during dramatic market slumps, making it unrealistic — if not impossible — for pension funds to meet their funding obligations.

Fortunately, Congress agreed with the alliance and made temporary changes to the PPA, granting much-needed relief. In doing so, Congress averted a looming catastrophe. However, additional action will be necessary to protect workers, businesses, and retirees during these challenging times.

Health Care Reform

ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE, quality health care is a vital part of a strong economy and should be a basic human right. Unfortunately, the ranks of the uninsured — and the underinsured — continue to grow, and consumers pay ever more for coverage.

Spiraling health care costs have become a nightmare both for unions and those who employ union workers. Many U.S. companies find themselves at a competitive disadvantage with foreign or nonunion firms that provide little or no health care benefits for their employees. Unions often enter contract negotiations knowing that health care benefits will be on the table. Too often, improvements to wages are deferred just to preserve these benefits.

The Boilermakers support comprehensive national health care reform that includes mechanisms for expanding coverage to all, controlling costs, and ensuring quality without jeopardizing or reducing the benefits that individuals have earned.

Address Climate Change and Invest in Energy Infrastructure

IN RESPONSE TO a growing scientific consensus that greenhouse gases from human activities contribute to global warming, Congress is poised to take dramatic action to reduce emissions.

Federal climate change policies must foster innovation and investment in clean energy technology — particularly advanced coal power generation with carbon capture and storage — through a mandatory, economy-wide “cap-and-trade” program.

American leadership to address climate change is long overdue. The United States must encourage action from all major emitters, while investing in domestic climate solutions and the skilled work force necessary to deploy new technology.

Reform Trade Policy

DRIVEN BY CORPORATE lobbyists, trade policy put the priorities of multinational corporations ahead of American workers. The United States must take a new approach that uses trade to lift up workers at home and abroad.

Congress should support Pres. Obama in his pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) so they include enforceable standards for workers’ rights, insist that Colombia show concrete results to end violence against trade unionists, and demand a renegotiation of a trade deal with Korea that currently fails to protect U.S. manufacturers.

Finally, Congress should take aggressive action to address China’s currency manipulation that gives its exports an unfair advantage.

Invest in American Shipbuilding

THE UNITED STATES needs a larger, more capable, power-projecting Navy to defend America’s security and economic interests. However, the U.S. Naval fleet is at a 91-year low of 279 ships.

The Navy fleet and our skilled shipbuilding labor force will continue to decline if shipbuilding budgets are not increased to provide for 12 new naval ships a year. This rate will provide the level of work needed to reduce the unit cost of ships and stop industry-wide job losses.

Congress must also act to end the Navy’s practice of entering into long-term lease agreements of foreign-built ships and expand the Title XI ship loan guarantee program to rebuild the aging Jones Act fleet. The Jones Act requires that all ships transporting goods and passengers between U.S. ports be constructed in the United States. Its intent is to protect America’s shipbuilding capability, particularly in the event of a future military conflict.