|The Chamber of Commerce is a
leading force behind anti-labor initiatives in Washington — so UE
members attending the union’s Political Action Conference last month
decided to pay a visit to the Chamber’s national headquarters, located
within sight of the White House. Demonstrating their disapproval are
Steve Descharnais, Marc Falcon, Will Anderson, Wayne ‘Big Dog’
Ericson, Carlos Cortez, Intl. Rep. Bruce Klipple, Bryan Rice, Barry
Rideout and Ron Rice.
Union members came to the nation’s capital March 25-28
and had a few choice words for those in charge.
a better chance of the boss belonging to the Chamber of Commerce
than a worker belonging to a union – and those are just the kind
of odds the Chamber likes, UE Research Director Lisa Frank told
"Shame, shame, shame," they chanted outside
the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Attending their union’s
political action conference, UE members also had a message to Members of
Congress: Get real.
Too many jobs have already been lost to trade deals,
declared upstate New York General Electric workers David
Steins and Paul Rosatti in their Congressman’s office.
"Vouchers take money from schools, from supplies and
teachers," Sandy Coulter insisted to an Ohio Republican.
Iowa social workers looked their Republican Congressman
right in the eye and told him, "Keep our paltry tax cuts, use them
for Medicaid prescriptions."
Factory workers and school workers from California to
Massachusetts addressed these and other issues, including legislative
attacks on overtime pay and labor’s free speech rights.
The UE Political Action Conference, taking as its theme
"Confronting Corporate Power: Defend Our Jobs and Schools,"
brought together activists from each of the union’s districts for
intensive days of briefings, lobbying and protest.
FIGHT FOR OUR ISSUES
| UE Genl. Pres.
Genl. Sec.- Treas. Bob Clark
Not for the first time, labor and its allies find
themselves on the defensive in Washington, said UE Genl. Pres. John
Hovis in opening the conference. "That’s no reason not to
fight for issues important to us."
Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark agreed. "The
boom years didn’t boom for us," he said. And now the new Bush
Administration threatens new battles ahead. The Bush Administration,
although illegitimate and anti-worker, can bring us together and unite
labor, he suggested.
"There’s political action, and then there’s
political action," Clark observed. "You can pay someone to
speak for you, or you can take it to the streets." UE involves
"Don’t think for one minute that (what we do
here) won’t make a difference," Clark declared. "If we don’t
stand up, they will walk on our backs."
SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS
In visits to congressional offices, UE members found a
wide range of responses — from the openly sympathetic to the openly
The conferees went to Capitol Hill after reviewing a
specially prepared UE briefing book and hearing directly from experts on
trade and education. All were equipped with the "UE Rank-and-File
Congressional Quiz;" union members grilled each lawmaker (or aide)
on the key issues. Meetings took place with nearly 50 Senators and
Representatives or their aides.
A District 11 delegation led by Carl Rosen and Bill
Austin enjoyed an encounter with an exceptional ally, Rep. Lane
Evans (D., Il.). Not only does Evans share the union’s position on
critical issues, he takes a leadership role as chair of the
International Labor Rights Caucus in Congress and through participation
in the Jobs and Trade Caucus. Many in Congress are clueless about the
difficulties unorganized workers face in organizing unions; Rep. Lane
expressed dismay at the obstacles.
"We saw Bernie (Sanders) — he’s
wonderful!" exclaimed Annette Vachon, Local 221 (see: UE
Delegates Cheer Consistent Congressional Allies).
The District 10 delegation expressed appreciation for
Sen. Barbara Boxer’s record; an aide assured the California UE
members, "You can count on us to be right down the line."
"These are tough times," said District Pres. Marianne Hart.
"These are tough times, including for those of us pushing these
issues," the aide responded.
Iowa UE members (including the Local 893 delegation, the
conference’s largest) met with an old ally, Sen. Tom Harkin,
the ranking Democrat on the Human Services and Labor Committee.
Wisconsin UE members (including the Local 1111 delegation, the third
largest) felt especially comfortable visiting the office of Sen. Russ
Feingold (D.), who ranked 100 percent on the UE Scorecard. "We
thank him tremendously," said Michelle Young, Local 1161.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) "is a good Democrat
but he was non-committal on everything," reported Annette Vachon,
SOME OF THE TIME
members make the case for Social Security to a skeptical aide to
Rep. John Sweeney (R., N.Y.). They are District 2 Pres. Judy
Atkins (back to camera), Paul Rosatti and David Steins.
Cal Dooley (with suit and tie) meets with the Political Action
Co-Chairs of District 10, Michael Rivera (Local 1421) and Mark
Falcon (Local 1014) and District President Marianne Hart.
The delegates from Local 332, Fort Edward, N.Y.
discovered Rep. John Sweeney opposes critical anti-labor attacks the
union expects in this session. But the Republican Congressman is not
fully in their corner. An aide clashed with them and District Two Pres. Judy
Atkins on privatization of Social Security, tax cuts for the rich
and school vouchers.
"We’re with you on many of these," said Rep.
Cal Dooley (D., Calif.), looking over the UE Congressional Quiz.
Generally, though, Dooley said, his position was in the middle —
"there are no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers."
Ohio delegates had a good meeting with Rep. Tony Hall
(D.), reported Nina Williams, Local 799. Unlike the other Ohio
lawmakers visited by District Seven members, his answers to the UE quiz
consisted of something other than "I don’t know" or
"no," she said.
NONE OF THE TIME
Rep. Paul Gillmor has received a zero
rating from UE in all but one of the last four years; based on what
an aide told Craig Miros, Local 714, and Sandy Coulter,
Local 767, the Ohio Republican seems headed for another low score.
Nevertheless, the UE delegates eloquently made the case for a pro-worker
agenda. Gillmor voted for the repeal
of the ergonomics standard; the aide stared dumbfounded as Miros
told how his hands shake and arm goes numb as a result of repetitive
motion while on the job at G&C Foundry in Sandusky.
An ergonomics debate provoked District Six delegates; an
aide justified Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R., Pa.) vote for repeal
by saying businesses would have moved to Mexico. "It was offensive
that the Senator would go along with workers being used, abused and
discarded on both sides of the border," objected Donna Cramer,
The low point for the District Seven delegation was the
meeting with an aide to Sen. Michael DeWine (R., Ohio) —
"a total little jerk, who made it clear he was there just because
he had to be," reported Williams.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) is a mover and
shaker on Capitol Hill — who scored
zero on the UE Scorecard during the past four years. Meeting with a
large, well-informed UE delegation, the Senator found himself unable to
convince union members of the case for unregulated free trade or tax
giveaways to the rich.
Many delegates expressed satisfaction with the
experience — "the experience of a lifetime," is how Will
Anderson, Local 792, expressed it. "I can safely say I will go
back to my local and say this was worthwhile," he said. Craig Miros
commented, "You don’t learn about politics by going to school. We
were lobbyists for UE — and didn’t have to get paid $60,000 a
"I didn’t come down here to be politically
active," started Dennis Crawford, Local 506. "To me,
this isn’t politics, this is surviving. Our jobs, health, environment
are on the line."
John Thompson, Local 690, proposed that district and
national officers work to build attendance. "This is the
centerpiece of the national union’s political action," he said.
|Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend
Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend and Bob
Clark recommended political action on the state level, too.
A big part of the political action conference is
leadership development, and creating an understanding of "how bad
things happened," Sec.-Treas. Clark said. "How good contract
language can be brushed aside with a (lawmaker’s) pen."
"The fundamental question remains, how do we best
build a political movement of labor and its allies to challenge
corporate power," Clark declared.
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