February / March / April 2017
Newsletter Volume 62, Number 1

The threats are real; so is the need to keep organizing

By the time you read this article, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. In the last newsletter, I wrote about the Republican Party’s agenda to systematically take apart unions in this country, including the Teamsters.

If you think I was bluffing about the Republican agenda, you only need to look to Kentucky, where union members just got their first blow from the 2016 election. Republicans took control of the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers last November. This month they passed a so-called “right to work” law aimed at weakening unions. They also eliminated prevailing wage requirements on all publicly funded construction projects, which Congress is poised to do on the national level. This is the same thing that Republicans did in the last few years in Indiana, where Vice President Mike Pence recently served as governor.

During his campaign, Trump promised to “clean the swamp” by getting money and DC insiders out of politics. Since his election, Trump has put forth his cabinet appointments to run various government departments including Labor, Education, and more. Once again, Trump is making history. This time, it’s by appointing the richest cabinet of any president in modern history. This “billionaires club” of Wall Street, corporate, and Washington insider types have a combined estimated wealth of $14 billion!

His pick to run the Department of Labor, which is supposed to protect workers and enforce federal labor laws, is a millionaire named Andy Puzder who is the CEO of the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. According to the AFL-CIO, Puzder is critical of minimum wage increases, although he made more money last year in one day ($17,192) than one of his minimum wage workers did in the entire year ($15,130). He has criticized workplace laws including ones that require lunch breaks. The Labor Department says that his company violated minimum wage laws. And he donated over $300,000 to Trump’s campaign. Sounds to me like Trump is filling the swamp.

Back here in California, we are all trying to grapple with what the next four years could look like. Most immediately, Trump and the Republican leadership campaigned with the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” What could that mean for California? Well, for starters, millions of Californians could lose their health insurance. About 1.3 million Californians have purchased their insurance through Covered California, our state exchange. Their premiums are lowered through federal tax credits. Another 3.7 million people have insurance through Medi-Cal, which is partly subsidized through the federal government’s Medicaid expansion. A UC Berkeley study determined that repeal could eliminate 209,000 jobs and cost the state economy $20.3 billion in GDP. It is hard to imagine how we could fill that hole and save everyone’s health care.

As our state government debates a budget that deals with these pressing realities, Teamsters and other unions are organizing to expose the insurance industry for their skyrocketing premiums and the impact it has on workers. Last year, we fought for and won SB 546, a bill designed to bring transparency to how the insurance companies set their rates in California. The bill also requires public meetings to review rate changes by large group plans. As this paper goes to press, Teamsters are mobilizing for the first such hearing in San Francisco on February 1.

In the belief that the best defense is a good offense, we joined hundreds of union members and leaders in an emergency meeting with the California Labor Federation to map out our plan of attack. Over the next few months, you will see these initiatives roll out.

On the Teamster front, there is no better offensive plan than aggressively negotiating good contracts and organizing new members. In this issue, you will read about Teamsters Local 2010’s fight for a fair contract from the University of California system. Local 2010 has spent years developing leaders and improving communication networks within the membership to gear up for this important fight. Based in part on their successes, within the next few months, business agents, shop stewards, and officers will be attending a Joint Council 7 training on communications. With the onslaught that is about to hit us from Washington DC, we need to engage with every member we can by any channel, including the work site, through Facebook, and more.

On the organizing front, Teamsters Local 137 scored a huge victory when more than 1,000 workers in Butte County voted to join the Local in December. They follow thousands of new public employee members in Contra Costa County who have voted to join Teamsters 856 in the past few years. And in a small but important victory in Oakland, workers at the Union Pacific rail yard at the Port of Oakland voted to join Teamsters Local 70 in January, bringing all rail workers at the port into the Teamster family. As of this writing, Local 665 is organizing solid waste and recycling drivers and Local 853 continues its campaign to organize high tech shuttle bus drivers.

As Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise always says, “If we aren’t growing, we are dying.” With Republicans ready to take everything away from us, it is more important than ever that we organize.