I’m not going to sugar-coat the election results and I’m not going to talk about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. With Republicans controlling the White House, Senate, and the House of Representatives, I want to talk about the Republican agenda for labor unions.
Simply put, the goal of the Republican Party and their backers is to weaken or eliminate unions altogether, pulling the rug out from under you on your paycheck, your health care, and your pension. How will they do this? Well, we already saw how in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker went after the unions. Incidentally, Walker is one of the candidates President-elect Trump is considering for his new Labor Secretary. In fact, every single person on the short list for a Cabinet Secretary position is part of the Republican establishment. So much for blowing up the system.
But back to the Republican agenda.
Let me explain, because this should be called “Wrong for work.” Under the law, unions are required to represent everybody in the workplace. Representation costs money, so that is one of the reasons you have to pay union dues. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, right?
Under “right-to-work,” nobody can be required to pay dues. That may sound appealing. After all, every penny counts, right? Why pay for a service that the union has to give you anyway, right?
Wrong. Here’s what has happened in the states that passed right-to-work. As union members stop paying dues, the remaining members have to cover all of the costs. Unions are asked to do more for less. They become less effective. That starts a downward spiral. The less effective we are, the more members drop out. Eventually we become weak. And that is the goal.
Maybe it still doesn’t sound bad to you. So, think about this: in the 26 states where right-to-work is the law, workers’ wages average 12-14% less. Fewer workers have health insurance. Workplace deaths are a whopping 49% higher. Poverty rates are higher and so are infant mortality rates. You may save some money each month in dues, but it comes at a big, big cost.
Republicans like right-to-work because it weakens us. It means that the large corporate donors behind the Party can make higher profits. It means we cannot hold politicians accountable in elections.
We dodged a bullet last year when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, leaving the Supreme Court split on a case that would determine whether public employees had to pay agency fees. Now, the Republicans are going to get to appoint his replacement. Look for them to bring it back.
Every year we fight efforts by Republicans to get rid of the eight-hour day, paid overtime, and more. Last year, with the help of Democrats, we blocked two attempts by Republicans to eliminate paid meal and rest breaks for truck drivers in California. This will come back.
This will wipe out our ready mix companies and other construction unions as the work will go to the lowest bidder. Construction companies paying minimum wages with no benefits will be competing against us.
This means watering down worker health and safety laws and OSHA, the agency whose job it is to enforce them. Republicans want to roll back everything we won under the Obama administration from the National Labor Relations Board and Department of Labor. This includes rules that make it easier for workers to organize unions, empower workers to sue their employers even where they have mandatory arbitration agreements, joint employer laws that benefit workers at temp agencies, and more.
I think we should be prepared for an onslaught against us that is stronger than any we have ever witnessed.
Here in California, Democrats control the Governor’s mansion, the State Senate, and the Assembly. In fact, they won a super-majority in November. In the last few years, California Teamsters have passed some of the strongest laws in the country protecting workers. I’m not trying to say that all Democrats are good, but, at worst, they do no harm to us. And, at best, they do things to make us stronger when we push them. At least they say they support unions. Republicans don’t.
So is there any good news? Joint Council 7 did more work this election than ever before. There is a saying that “all politics are local,” and when Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise took over in 2010, we made endorsements in all of our federal and state races. But we made only 20 endorsements in local races, such as city council, county supervisors and school boards.
I am happy to report that due to increased political involvement by almost all of our locals, in this election cycle, we made endorsements in more than 200 local races from Bakersfield in the south to Eureka in the north, Salinas to the west and Turlock to the east—and everywhere in between. That’s a 900% increase! And we won races in every single county where we made endorsements. In fact, we won in almost 70% of them.
When our Joint Council political coordinators met before the election, we chose a few priority races where multiple locals had overlapping interests. We put together a field program including precinct walking, phone banking, and mail. The Joint Council bought lap tops to use with phone banking software donated by Local 315. We made more than 5,000 phone calls to Teamsters and mobilized for 12 separate precinct walks. [See sidebar for results.]
I want to recognize a few individuals who put in the extra effort and their principal officers who gave them the green light to step up for all of us. Trish Blinstrub and Peter Finn from Local 856. John Bouchard and Larry Daugherty from Local 350. Alberto Ruiz and Don Garcia from Local 315. Rich Fierro and Marty Frates from Local 70. Rocio Mejia and Adam Ochoa from Local 948. Ashley Alvarado, Jason Rabinowitz, Joe Cilia, and Crescencio Diaz for throwing down in Reno. And of course Marsi Newman from the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council without whom none of this would be possible.
If California was its own country, we’d be sitting pretty. We need to see how we can “build a wall” here to stop the tidal wave coming our way from Washington D.C.