As this paper goes to press, the U.S. Congress just passed legislation unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes. As reported in this issue’s cover story, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) will protect Teamster pensions in struggling plans-—a victory the union has fought long and hard for through 20 years of Democrat and Republican administrations.
Thankfully, our Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Fund is in strong shape but, to keep it that way, we need to help our brothers and sisters in the Central States and over 50 other Teamster funds. Those Teamsters worked hard for their retirement benefits, and thanks to this legislation, they will get what they were promised.
Additionally, the ARP will shore up hundreds of thousands of Teamster jobs in public services, transit, airlines, rail, and other transportation industries. It provides more access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for workers everywhere, unemployment benefits, and direct payments to struggling households. It helps contain health care costs, expands tax credits for families with children, and provides a critical lifeline to local and state government services that we all rely on, from schools to public transit and more. In short, it is remarkable. Not a single Republican voted for the ARP, yet some were quick to take credit after it passed for the help it provides.
At the same time, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) which expands workers’ rights to join together in unions and collectively bargain, strengthens enforcement against employers who violate federal labor laws and closes some of the loopholes employers use against workers and their unions. Now it goes to the Senate, where it faces a tough battle. With 50 seats in the US Senate, the Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote. In the event of a tie, Vice-President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote. The Teamsters have known and supported since her first run for public office in 2003, and in cases like this, it helps to have friends!
If passed and signed into law, the PRO Act could help tilt the balance of power between workers and corporations back toward our side. We’ve all seen how far things have gotten out of whack. We feel it on the job every day.
Over the last year, I had the privilege to represent the Teamsters on the State of California’s Future of Work Commission, a 21-member body appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom. We were charged with looking at the current and future state of jobs in California and charting out some paths to a better future. We heard expert testimony demonstrating something we all know: that income inequality has grown as the number of workers in unions has shrunk. And that if we are going to do something about it, then we need to shrink corporate power by growing worker power. For decades now, we’ve been screaming this out to anyone in power who would listen, but not getting enough help from the people we need it from. The Commission issued a report this month and it puts the largest state in the country on the record saying we need to help workers join together in unions and crack down harder on corporations that resist that. That’s the first time I’ve seen state government anywhere take that position, and that’s exactly what the PRO Act will do on a national level.
President Biden promised that if he got elected, he would be “most pro-union president in history.” He already unwound some of the last President’s worst anti-worker actions in his first two months of office. With the help of Democrats in Congress, he has a chance to do a lot more.
This is why we do politics. Why every two years we take the time to sit down and interview people who are running for office as we did with Kamala Harris all those years ago. We endorse the ones we like and urge our members to vote for them. We recruit our own members to run for office. We make phone calls, send text messages and letters, and knock on doors to get out the vote. And we contribute a lot of money to their races, because, until real campaign finance reform passes in this country, it takes a lot of money to win.
All of this requires Teamsters to be involved. Not only do rank-and-file members need to get out and vote; they also need to volunteer on things from text messaging and making phone calls to interviewing candidates, processing paperwork, and more. These efforts are supported through our independent political action fund, called DRIVE—Democrat Independent Republican Voter Education.
DRIVE is a completely voluntary contribution that comes from your paycheck. You need to authorize it or it doesn’t happen. Many members give a couple of dollars every paycheck, the cost of a loaf of bread or gallon of gas. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but it all adds up. If it means saving your pension, your job, and your union, doesn’t that seem like a good investment? Your shop steward or business agent can help you sign up for DRIVE today.