The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Department of Field and Political Action selected Joint Council 7 to pilot a new program to build year-round political action and power. Recognizing the tremendous work we’ve done since Rome Aloise took over as Joint Council 7 President in 2010, our Joint Council was selected to start!
To kick things off, on Friday, May 1, more than 70 members participated in a half-day session at Local 853. We were only expecting 50 people to come, so the packed room showed how hungry people are to get involved. Participants included officers, business agents, political coordinators, shop stewards, and member activists from Locals 70, 87, 150, 315, 350, 386, 431, 439, 517, 601, 665, 853, 856, 890, 896, 948, 2010, and 2785.
We were there to talk about power. Who has it? How do we get it? What is it? Walter Reuther, former head of the United Auto Workers and one of the most powerful labor leaders in American history, defined power as, “The ability to get the boss to say ‘yes’ when he wants to say ‘no’.” That sounds right to me. That is why we do politics.
Christy Bailey from the IBT shared data from past election campaigns that showed, without a doubt, that when we talk to Teamsters at the job site about politics, we win. To emphasize the point, the conversation shifted to a review of Joint Council 7’s successes over the past several years, including local and statewide campaigns.
For example, our campaign to elect three Teamster-friendly members to the AC Transit Board —including the son of a retired Local 853 member— put money in our members’ pockets. Prior to our campaign, AC Transit was using our tax dollars to buy buses from Belgium instead of from Gillig, a local company with 500 Teamsters who make the last 100% made-in-America buses. After sweeping the election in 2010, AC Transit shifted their contract to Gillig. They just approved another purchase for January 2016, bringing the total purchase to 283 buses. That’s about 7 years of work for 500 Teamsters!
We also looked back to 2012, when the California Labor Federation—the umbrella to more than two million union members in California—gave Joint Council 7 the “Top Performing Union” award for our worksite program against Proposition 32. You probably remember this was the ballot initiative that aimed to destroy us by preventing us from spending any money to talk to our members about politics. During that campaign, we talked to more than 37,000 Teamsters at the job site, mobilized thousands of people, registered 23,000 Teamsters to vote statewide with Joint Council 42, and helped defeat Proposition 32 by a 57% to 44% margin!
That entire campaign—and most of our political work—was funded through the voluntary weekly DRIVE contributions that our members make. DRIVE stands for Democrat, Independent, Republican Voter Education. It’s our political action fund. If you are not signed up for DRIVE, tell your shop steward today.
Next we went on the offense, putting together an incredible string of legislative successes that rival any period in California Teamster history. These include taking apart the largest corporate welfare program in the country: the wasteful Enterprise Zone program that gave away almost a billion dollars annually to corporations with no strings attached. That was followed by our successful campaign to pass AB 263, the strongest law of its kind in the US to protect immigrant workers from threats of retaliation around their immigration status when they stand up for better wages and working conditions.
Finally, through our organizing campaign at Taylor Farms in Tracy, last year we passed AB 1897, the only law in the country that holds employers accountable when the temp agencies they contract with violate labor laws, including wage and hour violations, workplace safety, and workers’ compensation. Going into that fight, nobody thought we could win. The Chamber of Commerce had AB 1897 at the top of their “Job Killer” list, and the Governor had never signed a bill on that list. But it was the bravery of the Taylor Farms workers and the hundreds of Teamsters who showed up at four lobby days in Sacramento that made the difference. We set up a gauntlet in the hallways of the Capitol. Not only did we make the legislators walk by us and look us in the eyes before they voted, we scared the corporate lobbyists away. That’s Teamster power! For all of this work, the California Labor Federation gave us the 2015 Legislative Action Award last year.
Despite all of these wins, it’s not enough. Our enemies are constantly on the move, and we need to step up our game. We can’t just talk to our members at election time. We need to be on the move all of the time to protect our contracts, our families, and our way of life.
The next step in this program will be a series of regional meetings and actions. To get involved, please contact your local union or the Joint Council. When we get involved, we win!