Put The Work In by Wayne Murphy

 In News, Newsletter: spring '19

The Government Affairs Department continues its work in the legislative and political arenas in support of the critical initiatives being pursued by the Council’s various departments throughout our jurisdiction as well as on the federal level. It is really encouraging when we hear from legislative and policy leaders, from here in New England and from Washington D.C., that District Council 35 is one of the most active, engaged and knowledgeable labor organizations in the country.

We continue to closely monitor the unfolding situation in the United States Congress with respect to proposed changes to the law around multi-employer pension plans. I spoke in my last newsletter piece about the work being done by the Joint Select Committee on multi-employer pension plans. The authority of the Committee expired during the end of 2018 without any proposed legislation.

During the beginning of 2019, House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal filed a bill entitled “The Rehabilitation for Multi-Employer Pensions Act.” If enacted, this bill would create a new federal agency, The Pension Rehabilitation Administration, within the U.S. Treasury Department. The department would be empowered with the ability to provide loans to those multi-employer plans that are in “critical and declining” status. Loans would also be available to those plans that have suspended benefits or that have become insolvent. The loans would be financed by the issuance of U.S. Treasury Bonds.

It is critical to understand that the District Council 35 Pension Plan is on a very solid financial ground. Due to a history of sound decisions by the plan’s trustees and the commitment of our brother and sister members to consistently fund contributions to the pension plan, we are very well-funded, and our forward thinking has ensured that our present retirees, as well as future retirees, will have a dignified retirement. Unfortunately, many plans across New England and across the country are not in as solid position as we are. Congress has been studying the problem and it is most likely that some changes to the law will be forthcoming.

Against this backdrop, we continue to educate and advocate for our membership to members of Congress. I am in regular contact with elected leaders and Congressional staffers to make sure that each is fully aware of the strengths of our plan and the fact that we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that our good work is not undone by our elected representatives. Some of the leaked proposals that came out of the Joint Select Committee were alarming as it appeared that there was some legislative appetite to help the poorly performing plans on the backs of the strong plans. We are doing everything possible to make sure each member of Congress knows that this is not an option. Just last week, Business Manager Sullivan and I had the opportunity to spend some time with U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch to update him on our analysis of proposed legislation and continue our advocacy efforts around this issue. We will continue this education and advocacy to protect and preserve the solid retirement plan we have in place for all members of District Council 35.

We’ve also been spending time paying attention to the post-Janus world as it relates to public sector unions. There are a series of cases pending across the country, including one here in Massachusetts, that continues the attack on our brother and sister public union employees. The big corporate interests that expected to see a mass exodus of union members with the Janus decision have been disappointed. In fact, it was recently reported that union membership went up in Massachusetts during the past year. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in many states across the country there has been an increase in public sector union membership. Many union members across the country are sending a clear message to the anti-union ideologues- they are sticking with their union. The Janus decision, contrary to popular belief, has re-energized public sector unions and the recent increase in teacher strikes and new organizing initiatives are turning the dialogue on its head.

As a result, the anti-union faction has set its sights on the issue of exclusive representation. In the case of Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, Massachusetts has become one of several post-Janus battleground states. Last month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts heard argument in the Branch case, brought by several public-school educators who argued that even though they were not union members that they should be entitled to have the ability to vote on the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union and the employer. There are similar court attacks in other jurisdictions on the exclusive representation clause. We continue to monitor these cases. Again, these cases are limited to public-sector unions, but it is a clear indication of the playbook being used by the anti-union forces that attempt to lessen our quality of life.

New Hampshire has several legislative initiatives that we are supporting. One of the more impactful proposals is SB 271. The proposed legislation would require the payment of prevailing wages on state-funded public construction projects. We have written in support of the legislation and with the joint efforts of other union, organizations are implementing an advocacy plan to try to successfully move the legislation through to the governor’s office. This is just one of the initiatives we are pursuing in New Hampshire.

Our education and advocacy work continues every day throughout the entire geographical jurisdiction of District Council 35. We are here to serve the membership and ensure that the future is better than the present. The direct connection between the work of the Government Affairs Department and increased work opportunities for our brothers and sisters is what drives my work every day.

As each of our members becomes more aware of the issues, she or he becomes a better advocate for our values and ideals. Each of us needs to put the work in; the return on investment will be well worth the effort.