We find ourselves at a crossroads throughout North America. We are still dealing with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact it has had on public health and the economy. This crisis has given us the largest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. We are also coming to grips with the long-simmering racial, social and ethnic injustices that were reignited by several incidents, culminating with the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others.
This is decision year in the United States, with the seats of the president and House of Representatives, as well as many Senate, gubernatorial, and state legislature seats up for election. The choices we make will have long-lasting effects on how the COVID-19 and social injustice crises are addressed. They will also determine the strength of our union in the future, which will directly impact the hours that our members are given the opportunity to work, our health insurance, wage increases, and pensions.
In 2016, I wrote to you to urge you not to vote against your best interests. 2018 brought on the mid-term elections, where we were essential in securing seven (7) gubernatorial victories; held our ground in the Senate, with only one current net loss; had a net gain of twenty-eight (28) U.S. House seats; captured six (6) state chambers; and turned over many supermajorities and trifecta control, changing the political landscape of many states in favor of unions.
Yes, a “Blue Wave” benefits unions, and we are seeing some of the results of the last two critically important elections. The effects of anti-worker judges appointed to the bench, National Labor Relations Board decisions, and anti-worker executive orders may take years to show.
One example is the Trump Secretary of Labor, Eugene Scalia, who is a union-busting attorney charged with protecting workers’ rights. What an irony! If the name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s a second-generation anti-union, anti-worker official. He is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Enforcement of prevailing wage laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act are way down, as is the number of people charged with enforcement. OSHA has had its funding cut, and enforcement cut back. As of this writing, OSHA has refused to issue a Federal standard for the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The Trump National Labor Relations Board has reversed all of the Obama-era cases that enhanced workers’ rights, and many that were in place prior to the Obama administration. Here’s an example that hits closer to home—the situation in West Virginia and our own District Council 53. Our economy began to improve under President Obama, and was booming in the five to seven years prior to the COVID crisis. Yet, as politics changed in West Virginia, and Republicans occupied the seats of government within the state, changes were made.
Prevailing wage in the state was abolished and West Virginia also became a Right-to-Work state. You may say “So what?” The net result was that, in five years, we lost 20 percent of our members, and 20 percent of our man hours in West Virginia. This all happened during a construction boom. The change in these two laws had a very negative and profound impact on our market share and our ability to negotiate better wages and benefits. IUPAT contractors went from winning 85 percent of all school painting, drywall, and glazing projects, to winning just 15 percent of them.
Don’t think it can’t happen where you live and work! A few subtle changes and we are weaker and poorer. Again, don’t vote against your own best interests. Your livelihood, and your families’ futures are at stake.
Maybe other issues are important to you. I personally abhor abortion, and many people vote on the basis of that issue. I personally support peoples’ right to own guns, and many people vote on the basis of that issue. Well, since the mid ‘70s, whether a Republican or Democrat occupied the White House, or regardless of who held the majority in Congress or on the Supreme Court, nothing has changed on those two issues. The Democrats have not taken your guns, and the Republicans have not overturned Roe v. Wade or outlawed abortion. So, vote your pocketbook. Politicians on both sides use these issues as leverage and change nothing.
I am not suggesting that electing Democrats will give us everything we want for workers to gain a fairer slice of the economic pie. We will, as always, have to fight and make our voices heard, just as we are doing now in the fight against injustice and bigotry, which is very much a workers’ rights issue. However, given another four years, Trump and his enablers in Congress and the Courts will further divide our country along racial and ethnic lines, and further erode workers’ rights and protections, while giving all the economic gains to the wealthiest among us.
I have never voted strictly on the basis of party. I have always evaluated the candidates. This time, however, because of how extreme Trump has led the Republican Party, I urge you to vote straight Democrat and send a message that we won’t continue to be lied to and taken advantage of. Speak to all of your friends and family. Vote in your economic interest. Get everyone you can to register to vote, and then vote!
In 1872, Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri said on the floor of the Senate, “My country, right or wrong; if right to be kept right; if wrong to be set right.”
The United States and Canada have always striven to achieve high ideals. Yet, on the issue of equal and fair treatment of racial minorities, immigrants, the poor, or workers, we have fallen woefully short and struggled mightily. This year, in the midst of so many crises and an election, we have a chance to finally set it right. Let’s continue to work for justice, equality, and fairness—not just for workers but for everyone. Speak your mind. Vote. Be active!
I pray that we all turn back to God and seek Him and His kingdom so that he may heal our land of disease, hatred, and injustice.
God bless you all.