Indiana congressman backs union jobs, fair trade
THE SON OF an ironworker and a long-time supporter of organized labor received the 2009 Legislator of the Year Award at the annual LEAP conference in Washington, D.C., March 18. Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN 1st) accepted the award from Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones, who called him “an outstanding ally of American workers.” Jones added, “Pete Visclosky has been a champion for labor issues — including issues that hold special importance to the Boilermakers’ union. He has pushed vigorously to expand U.S. shipbuilding; he has fought tirelessly against unfair trade agreements; and he is one of the original sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act.”
Local 374 (Hammond, Ind.) delegates Eric Estes and Steve Mantz introduced Visclosky to the conference, praising him as a “superhero” for organized labor and “a warrior that Indiana needed, indeed the whole country needed.”
Visclosky spoke about his support of working family issues. “I have tried throughout my career to make sure that people have an opportunity…to make a living wage,” he said. “My dad, God bless him, is still alive at 93 years old, and he said, ‘Your job is to make sure that everybody else in the community has a job, because if they have a good-paying job, if they have health care, if they’re going to have a pension, they can take care of everything else.’”
Visclosky described how he has fought for union jobs. He noted that when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus bill) was being considered, he offered amendments to include “Buy American” and prevailing wage protections. “And we got pushback,” he said, “like it was some kind of crime and we were going to upset our trading partners overseas, and they were going to get mad at us. I said, ‘Listen, they’re cutting our throats right now. We are the largest importing nation in the world. Don’t give me — don’t give American workers — a lecture about free trade.’”
The congressman noted the absence of delegates from Boilermakers Local 524 (East Chicago, Ind.) at the conference. That lodge represented employees of Union Tank in East Chicago, until the company shut down operations there.
“The handwriting was on the wall in 2004 when Union Tank began to build a facility in Alexandria, La.” Visclosky said. “You knew it was only a matter of time before they closed a union shop and began using nonunion labor. By March of 2008, despite the union’s best efforts, our efforts, other local leaders’ efforts, those jobs are now nonunion in the state of Louisiana.”
Visclosky also talked about his support of American shipbuilding and the Employee Free Choice Act. As a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he has argued for restoring the U.S. Navy fleet to at least 300 ships. An original cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, Visclosky said the Democratic party failed organized labor by not passing legislation prior to 1994, when the party had working majorities in Congress and a Democrat (Bill Clinton) in the White House.
“There is nothing fair about the playing field today,” he said. “That’s what you’re asking, that’s exactly what I’m asking…that we have a level playing field.”
Visclosky has represented Indiana’s First Congressional District since 1984. In addition to serving on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and chairs the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. He also chairs the Congressional Steel Caucus.