The Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO passed a series of statements at its annual executive board meeting February 21-22 dealing with significant developments affecting working Americans – including attacks on the Labor Movement, the importance of creating more middle-class jobs for U.S. workers , the critical role that union members played in dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, solidarity with Mine Workers at Patriot and Bakery Workers at Hostess, and a heartfelt “thank you” to James A. Williams, who will retire soon as president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
- ATTACKS ON THE LABOR MOVEMENT: MTD executive board members condemned the growing and incessant attacks on the U.S. Labor Movement, especially since “America’s economic health depends on a strong middle class, and a strong middle class depends on union representation!”
The scope of the attacks is breathtaking. “Nothing is sacred,” noted the statement. “Retirement security, health care coverage, Davis-Bacon, Project Labor Agreements, and other important worker protections are constantly in the cross-hairs.
”At the state level, anti-union politicians and special interest have been promoting right-to-work (for less) laws. They’ve targeted public sector unions, which has had a deleterious effect on the ability of all workers—whether they’re unionized or not, or employed in the public sector or private sector.” The high-stakes battle in Michigan is a chilling example of what has been happening.
Quoting Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris, the statement stressed, “Union jobs are good jobs. They are essential to growing and maintaining a strong middle class, which is vital to the economic health of this country. It is critical that we continue to ensure all people have a voice in the workforce, and protect the right to organize and bargain collectively.”
- JOBS: Noting that “J-O-B-S” is the “most important four-letter word in our language,” members of the MTD Executive board promised to support the federation’s efforts on behalf of all working men and women.
“We continue to support increased infrastructure spending – in our ports, in our transportation sectors, in our schools among other needed locations. Repairing and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure will provide good paying jobs that will benefit not only workers and their families but the whole country. Instead of attacking the Jones Act, cargo preference and Davis-Bacon… elected officials at the local, state and federal levels need to find ways to provide a paycheck for those men and women willing and able to work.”
- SUPERSTORM SANDY: Nothing demonstrated the efficiency and competence of unionized workers more than Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into the East Coast a week before last year’s election. As the statement declared, “When a disaster strikes, union work workers report for duty
.“They are the ones who rebuild the roads, clean the streets and race emergency workers to important duties. They are the ones who sail the rivers and coast and oceans to deliver vital supplies for recovery.”
Citing “the Fire Fighters who put down storm-related fires, Longshoremen who struggled to get the ports back to order, Electrical Workers who restored power, Bakery Workers who stayed at the ovens so food would be available, Government Employees who cleared debris from the streets and Tradesmen from our affiliates working to restore neighborhoods, if a job needed to be done, it was likely a union worker doing it.”
- SOLIDARITY AT PATRIOT AND HOSTESS: Union solidarity was front and center at the MTD winter meeting. The board members shouted their support for workers at the Patriot and Hostess companies. Officials from the Mine Workers and the Bakery Workers unions provided updates on recent developments
.Daniel Kane, secretary-treasurer of the Mine Workers, gave a history of what has transpired at Patriot Coal. The company was created in 2007 when Peabody Energy “dumped more than $500 million in obligations for retiree health care owed to its employees, retirees and families.” The following year, Patriot acquired Magnum Coal – which had spun off in much the same fashion from Arch Coal in 2005 – and the obligations on Patriot grew to more than $1.3 billion.
Last year, the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy. “It is expected that management will soon petition the federal bankruptcy court to reject its collective bargaining agreement with the UMWA.
As the union has noted, “While corporate bankruptcies are not uncommon, Patriot’s is anything but business as usual.” Condemning this naked attempt to rob workers of their retirement security, the statement stressed that management “must honor the contractual promises of retirement health care made to their workers over years of collective bargaining agreements with the Mine Workers.”
In a related development, Steven Bertelli, secretary-treasurer of the Bakery Workers union, made a ringing pronouncement that the union “is still fighting for its membership,” even though Hostess is in the process of going out of business. He said the union members at the company knew that this would be a difficult fight, but they wouldn’t accept a 32 percent cut in their wages and benefits. In a sense, the situation reflects many of the most disturbing trends in labor-management relations. While workers have made sacrifices to make U.S. companies more competitive, management has responded by feathering their own nests, not by making their companies more competitive.
- TRIBUTE TO JAMES A. WILLIAMS: Noting that James A. Williams, who soon will be retiring as president of the Painters union, has been a good friend of the MTD and a tireless advocate of workers’ rights, the MTD board members passed a statement praising a life well lived. “While a biography can let you know some things about a person, it cannot describe that person’s character. Jimmy Williams’ makeup is his bond. From his friends and family back in Philly, to the thousands of union members he has reached across the U.S. and Canada, people know Williams does not shirk from a fight.”
Brother Williams joined Glaziers Local 252 in 1968, climbing through the ranks to head the IUPAT in 2002.