As we go to press, I am concerned about all the carnage that Mother Nature has caused in the last few weeks; Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico. It is as if she is making a point to say that global warming is real or that she is mad about something. Whichever, it registered loud and clear.
However, in true Teamster fashion, we knew that when Houston was hit that it would affect many of our Teamster sisters and brothers. In a matter of days, California Joint Councils 7 and 42 leaped into action. We called our local in Houston and asked what was needed the most. They suggested water, non-perishable food stuffs, diapers, cleaning equipment, and various other basic items. Within two days we were able to get donations from many of our employers, giving us most of what we needed. We also had many members step up and donate items and I have to thank all of the Local Unions in the Joint Council that participated. Local 853 trustee Joel Bellison wrapped pallets and our JC7 truck driver Ron Valdez, along with Local 853 organizer Steve Bender and Local 853 trustee Mike Fritz were fully loaded. They rendezvoused with four more Teamster trucks in Southern California and drove straight through to Houston—all in all, 29 hours. They delivered the much-needed items in time to be used by Houston members.
This is the best of who and what we are as Teamsters. We help each other, we work together, and we get the job done. While our intention was to serve our Teamster family first, we had brought so much of the requested items that we were able to share with the general public. as well. Thousands of people in need saw first-hand that what they hear from anti-union politicians and media isn’t what unions or the Teamsters are all about. It was one of our finer moments and I thank everyone who volunteered and did such a great job.
In September, I attended the International Teamsters Women’s Conference. I was proud to see so many Joint Council members making presentations about their successful work. Locals 2010 and 856 were recognized for their recent organizing victories, and Local 853’s Stacy Alvelais taught a class for the Transportation division. All in all, our Joint Council continues to be at the forefront of our union.
You’ll see several articles in this newspaper about the cannabis industry. While medicinal cannabis has been legal in California for many years, the passage of Prop. 64 legalizing recreational marijuana heralds a new industry that will utilize warehousing, distribution, and many of the skills that Teamsters bring to the workplace. This is an area that could potentially offer thousands of good Teamster jobs and we are already part of the policy efforts to shape how the industry is regulated. But legal or not, our members who are drivers may still be drug tested and can lose their jobs or more if they don’t test clean.
As you know, the Congress and Senate of the United States continue to fight over how to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans and Trump could care less about the millions of people that repeal would hurt and the billions of dollars it will cost the states.
As a union we could suggest many changes in the Act, but repeal is a bad option, only being done for political purposes. Luckily, so far, the ineptness of Trump and his lackeys shows through and nothing has happened on the health care front.
However, a far bigger issue for many Teamsters and other union members is the shape pension plans are in. We are fortunate here in the west to be part of the Western Conference of Teamsters pension plan; it is the largest in the nation and in very good shape. However, many across the country are not so fortunate. Membership losses due to downsizing of industries, deregulation and other issues have caused many pension plans to border on insolvency over the course of the next decade.
This is a terrible calamity. A pension is a promise to our members that they will enjoy a decent retirement with dignity. The thought that these plans will not be able to keep that promise is unthinkable. The Teamsters International and a few others are developing legislation to make sure that these plans have a way to continue to pay out the pensions that were earned.
What is so ironic and outrageous is that our government bailed out the banks and Wall Street with trillions of dollars of taxpayer’s money, but can’t find one-tenth of one percent of that amount to help millions of retirees and active union members with their future. This is totally unacceptable. What it clearly shows is, even when the Democrats controlled things, we have no friends who really want to help unions in the U.S. Congress. We get lip service and we get promises, but when it comes to doing what our members need, those promises evaporate. Now that so many pension plans are in crisis mode, perhaps we will see some of our elected officials stand up for what is right.
I have been working on these issues for many years and continue to do so when I am in Washington D.C. I am thankful that the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust is in such good shape, but we do have members in the Joint Council who are covered by different plans that are not as strong. Hopefully, our elected officials will do the right thing and get this legislation going. Everyone should have the security of a decent pension.