LEAP conference fires up members over anti-union attacks

Delegates shift gears as Congress goes into recess

“We will not cave to anti-union forces.”
— IP Newton B. Jones

AGAINST A BACKDROP of naked anti-union attacks — both at state and federal levels — delegates to the Boilermakers LEAP conference in Washington, D.C. March 20-24 gathered to assess the political landscape, align priorities, and lobby members of Congress. Lobbying was complicated by the fact that federal lawmakers took an unexpected recess just prior to the conference, so Capitol Hill was virtually empty of lawmakers.

Despite that development, delegates took their issues to congressional offices, meeting with aides instead. Those meetings are valuable as well, since aides advise lawmakers on policy issues. And with so many first-time members of Congress taking office this year, getting to know their congressional staffers took on added importance.

Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones set the tone for the conference, deriding labor’s enemies for their “unprecedented assaults on collective bargaining and the freedom to organize.” He said attacks by right-wing ideologues “are about silencing dissent and eliminating political opposition from their most powerful adversary: the labor movement.

“Make no mistake,” he continued, “we will not cave to anti-union forces on the issues that are key priorities to the future of our nation and the livelihood of our members. The mettle and resilience of the American labor movement have always been strongest in the face of the most aggressive attacks.”

Radio host brings laughter, sharp commentary

“We’re not going to lie down; we’re not going to shut up.”
— Stephanie Miller, Radio talk show host

PROGRESSIVE RADIO TALK show host and comedienne Stephanie Miller turned political analysis into outrageously funny — and sometimes barbed — commentary. Hailing from a conservative family, Miller nevertheless has adopted progressive principles and today argues that the GOP has become far too extreme.

She said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has “woken a sleeping giant” by his efforts to strip away most bargaining rights from state workers. Miller asked, “Is this [labor’s response] not the most beautiful solidarity you’ve ever seen? I think Governor Walker is going to get his union-busting ass recalled.”

Miller brought roars of laughter with her heavily accented impersonation of Arianna Huffington and Arnold Schwarzenegger — but she had a serious message for the conference. She said that while the ultra-wealthy complain about the deficit and demand sacrifices, it is working people and the poor who are making those sacrifices.

“Don’t lose heart,” she urged. “Every move they’re making is just wrong. The polls show it. We’re not going to lie down, we’re not going to shut up, and we’re going to take back this country state by state.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer receives LOY Award

REP. STENY HOYER, (D-5th MD) received the Brotherhood’s 2010 Legislator of the Year Award from IP Jones following the congressman’s address to the LEAP conference about the importance of labor unions in American society.

Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip of the 112th Congress, was cited for his 95 percent lifetime AFL-CIO voting record and his role in helping to pass such landmark legislation as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Health Care Act.

Pointing out members of Local S-50 (Baltimore) seated near the podium, Hoyer recognized them for making stoves and appliances in the United States. (S-50 members build commercial-grade equipment for restaurants, including the Vulcan line of products.) “We need to have more of that [manufacturing work] in the United States,” he said.

Hoyer condemned those who seek to strip workers of their right to organize and bargain collectively. He quoted Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, who said, “A strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice.”

Seizing on Eisenhower’s remarks, Hoyer stated, “There are too many fools today in America who don’t understand that there has been no vibrant democracy in the world without a free trade union movement.”

Ballot measures cost unions, threaten working families

“This is an all-out war against public services and the public sector.”
— Joel Foster, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

AT THE STATE level, it’s not just new laws passed by legislatures and signed by governors that can threaten working families — ballot measures also can have a dark side. So says Joel Foster, ballot integrity director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. He said right-wing groups use ballot initiatives to weaken unions and remove funding for vital public programs. And fighting these initiatives is expensive.

“Since 2002, labor and the progressive movement have spent half a billion dollars just to defend the status quo,” he said.

Foster noted that ballot initiatives targeting public sector collective bargaining and project labor agreements, as well as initiatives promoting so-called right to work and paycheck deception, are spreading across the country.

“This is the worst we’ve ever seen. This is an all-out war against public services and the public sector.”

Foster called for union members to stay alert for anti-union ballot measures in their states and to take action early — before signatures are collected. He urged unions to build coalitions and go on the offensive with their own initiatives.

EPA deputy argues Clean Air Act good for economy

THE INDUSTRY THAT has grown up around clean air standards — including work done by Boilermakers in building emission control systems — has been good for the American economy and job creation, EPA Deputy Admin. Bob Perciasepe told the conference.

He said a lot of myths and false claims have been circulated regarding the cost of environmental regulations, but the facts speak for themselves. Last year, clean air standards prevented 160,000 premature deaths and helped prevent more than 170,000 unnecessary trips to the hospital. New EPA proposals to control mercury, arsenic, and other toxins would prevent thousands more deaths and illnesses annually. Not only does a healthier population contribute to prosperity, he said, but the environmental control industry is responsible, directly and indirectly, for 4 million jobs. He said this sector actually has a positive export balance with China.

Perciasepe praised the environmental work of the Boilermakers union, noting that the union “has been on the front line of pollution control in the United States for decades.”

Speaker links NFL players with labor, communities

NFL FOOTBALL PLAYERS share a common interest with organized labor and the future of American workers, according to Joe Briggs, the NFL Players Association public policy counsel. Briggs told conference participants, “We live in the communities where we play football. We believe in the people in those communities and [their work rights]. We believe they deserve our support, because they support us.”

Briggs described how NFL players have come to the aid of Boilermakers at the Avondale Shipyard (Local 1814 in Bridge City, La.), including participation in a rally where they wore “Save Our Shipyard” T-shirts. Northrop Grumman plans to close Avondale by 2013.

Briggs stressed that although NFL players are facing a possible lockout next season, they will not forget that labor, too, is facing struggles.

“We understand there’s a move afoot to shrink the middle class. We understand that even if we are not allowed to play football games in the 2011 season, it’s bigger than the players on the field. There are restaurants, bars, and other [businesses] that go in to supporting football that will be severely affected.”

He added, “We’ll still be here to support the Boilermakers. We’ll continue to support Avondale Shipyard.”

Exelon executive provides nuclear crisis update

WITH THE NUCLEAR crisis in Japan fresh on the minds of delegates, Exelon Generation COO Chip Pardee, spoke about the disaster and other nuclear industry concerns.

He said, “From what we can tell, the [Fukushima Daiichi] power plant made it through the earthquake just fine. The thing that created all the issues in Japan was the tsunami and really the flooding. It wreaked havoc on all those backup systems that are intended to provide core cooling.

“It’s probably too early yet to see what this does to new construction cycles here in the United States,” he said.

Pardee noted that the U.S. has been successful in extending the life of nuclear power plants (in terms of licensing) from 40 years to 60 years, and that his company and other power companies will be reinvesting in older plants, installing new turbines, pumps, and motors.

“If you’re pro-nuclear, what we need to do is to make sure the anti-nuclear folks …don’t get the upper hand by distorting the facts [surrounding Fukushima and nuclear power in general].”