We defend ourselves on the picket lines and in negotiations. Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley told delegates, "we also defend ourselves and our conditions by organizing the unorganized.
Organizing is crucial both to organized workers’ self-defense and to reclaiming the American Dream, the UE officer said.
Nine-plus years into a record-setting economic recovery, working people are not sharing in the so-called boom’s benefits, Kingsley said. "America’s CEOs are now earning 400-plus times what their employees make, a gap 10 times greater than it was in 1980 and much greater than any other industrial nation on the planet." The richest one percent of the population now owns more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined.
WHERE’S OUR SHARE?
"The picture is a little bit different on our side of the tracks," the UE leader said.
"If we start with the fact that we’re working longer and harder for less and to an older age, and we add on to that, that our job security is diminishing, and our health and pension benefits are under steady and sustained attack, then pretty soon you’ve got to conclude that we are getting the short end of the stick, economic boom or not," Kingsley asserted.
Strong unions can reverse this trend, but "the troubling truth is that most workers in America today do not have a union. In fact 86 percent of workers overall, 91 percent of workers in the private sector do not have a union to defend themselves in their conditions."
Kingsley stressed, "The less we are unorganized the more we will be exploited. That is why we speak in this union of organizing as our first mission. That is why any union worthy of the name must be committed to an aggressive organizing program."
A WINNING RECORD
And what about UE’s organizing? UE organized more than 1,600 workers under the banner this year, "the best year this union has had since at least 1995-96. We scored victories in all six of UE’s geographic districts — a breadth of success the union has enjoyed only one other time during the previous decade."
UE won 83 percent of representation elections this year.
"Our newest members are from steel mills and copper mills, from hospital and nursing homes, from school districts and warehouses," Kingsley observed. "They are from the private sector and the public sector. They are from seven states and from eight new UE local unions, including two new amalgamated local unions."
"A true highlight this year," Kingsley pointed out, "was UE’s resounding victory at Henry Mayo hospital in Santa Clarita, California. More than 500 service, maintenance and technical workers voted UE in February in what was our first victory in the new millennium and our largest NLRB win in an unorganized workplace in more than 20 years."
Member involvement made this record possible, Kingsley said. "We were able to get it done because you continued to care, because you continue to support it, because you continue to participate. Some 200 UE volunteer organizers from 48 different UE locals come forward this year to help build the union."
Although the union’s record is good, it’s not good enough, the UE officer cautioned. Globalization — "an economic wrecking ball aimed at industrial work sites in the USA" — has not left UE untouched. The union’s organizing program stopped the decline in the mid-Nineties, "but even the expanded organizing that we’ve done in the years since has not been enough" to expand the number of organized workers.
‘AGAINST THE ODDS’
Organizing today, Kingsley said, is "a story of a continuing battle against the odds, against increasingly ferocious employer opposition — against the gauntlet of lives, threats and intimidation workers must run to exercise the right to organize." Eight percent of employers hire unionbusters; one third fire union activists. And labor laws, when not weighing us down, are "as porous as an old rusted bucket when it comes to the protection of workers’ rights."
"The only choice is to fight and to fight harder, even if we don’t always win," the union officer said. The 2000-2001 UE Organizing Plan is a continuation of the last year’s plan, with new emphases, calling for new ways of involving members and struggling to find and develop ways of organizing outside the box of labor law, he said. Important examples of looking beyond labor law are the union’s work in North Carolina and work in the Freudenberg chain, where UE is developing solidarity with strong European unions.
Kingsley believes this can be a time of hope. By building the union, not only will UE beat back bosses, but it will also strike a blow toward taking this country back, he said, exhorting delegates to "Build this union!" — a chant, picked up by delegates, that resounded through the hall.
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