We Have To Be All In by Wayne Murphy
2020 has seen continued attacks on working families, but hope remains. The deck is stacked against us, but if history is instructive, organized labor won’t fold. It will brace for the fights ahead and continue to be the voice for working women and men. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a whole new set of obstacles. Some were overcome and some remain. Our future is uncertain for reasons beyond our control, but that requires us to do all we can to control the things we are able to. The Government Affairs Department continues it’s work in supporting the other District Council Departments membership in every way possible.
President Trump claims his “agenda is relentlessly proworker.” He was half right. His agenda is relentless for sure, but surely not pro-worker. One need look no further than the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and its recent decisions, to see the shattering of decadeslong worker protections. The NLRB was established to enforce the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which was enacted to guarantee the rights of workers to improve conditions by joining together. Under the current administration, the NLRB has excluded workers from the law’s protections, made it more difficult for workers to organize groups of their choosing and made it harder for workers to communicate with each other at work. The NLRB has overruled years of settled law, not just decisions made by the most recent board of the NLRB, and there are pending, proposed rule changes that will further weaken workers’ rights and strengthen employers’ powers over it’s workforce. It’s all there in black and white for anyone to read.
This has brought about the re-commitment of organized labor to wield their power and work tirelessly to bring about change. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), was passed through the U.S. House of Representatives and was referred to the U.S. Senate on February 10, 2020. We have written in support of the PROAct and are in communication with our elected delegation in Washington. If enacted into law, the PRO Act would make it easier for workers across all industries to join together and advocate with their employers to improve working conditions. There is a groundswell of support to protect the right to organize, and much of the support is coming from industries that have not been workplaces that were historically unionized shops. The tech industry and the world of academia are two recent examples of industries that are understanding the need for, and the benefit of, workers collectively organizing together to improve their working conditions.
I was dispatched for a trip in January to Washington D.C. to advocate for new sources of funding to the Finishing Trades Institute of New England (FTI). Along with a contingent of other FTI and District Council leaders across the country, I had the opportunity to meet with nearly all of the New England Congressional Delegation to educate them on the work being done by our FTI and to explain our recent accreditation, which now opens additional sources of funding to the top-notch education being done in the building trades. It was encouraging to come away from the meetings with the elected leaders knowing that they now have a better understanding of our accreditation and the future improvements that can be made to our programs. Our work was successful and on July 9, 2020 a House Bill entitled “The Supporting Apprenticeship Colleges Act of 2020” was filed with the U.S. House of Representatives. We now begin the necessary work to educate and earn the support of as many members of Congress to get this bill passed into law. If successful, the bill will enable our FTI to access funding to improve its offerings, increase student services, and expand our reach across the region.
The prospective legislative fix to the multiemployer Pension reform continues to require constant monitoring and advocacy. With the passing of the “Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act” by the House of Representatives in July 2019, the ball is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate. While no proposed legislation has been produced in the Senate, a “Whitepaper” and technical explanation was put out by Republican Senators Grassley Wayne Murphy Director of Government Affairs 617-522-0520 We Have to Be All In DC 35 Summer Newsletter 31 and Alexander this past November. In summary, the Grassley/Alexander plan would require pension benefit reductions of up to 10%, increase premiums made to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, impose “copayments” of up to 10% on our retirees and impose a new stakeholder premium on both unions and employers. Needless to say, this proposal would weaken our strong pension plan, take money out of our retirees’ pockets and diminish the plan’s assets by increasing monies going out of the plan. We oppose the Grassley/Alexander proposal and will continue to voice our position to all elected leaders in Congress. The strength of the DC 35 Pension Plan is the result of solid fiscal stewardship by the Plan’s Trustees, both labor and management, and the commitment by our membership to ensure that both our present retirees will have a dignified retirement and that future retirees will enjoy the same financial stability. This is all part of the plan set forth by BMST Sullivan to take care of the present and to be ready for the future. We will do all within our power to protect the fruits of our labor.
I continue my work as a member of a select sub-group of building trades unions who are engaged with members of the contractor community in working through the proposed wage theft legislation for consideration by the Massachusetts State House. If enacted, this important legislation will go a long way toward protecting scores of workers, many of whom are working in the building trades for unscrupulous contractors. This will, in turn, make our signatory contractors more competitive in their markets. If all contractors are required by law to pay workers what they earn (it’s unfortunately shocking that a law is needed for this basic concept), we will be in a stronger position to compete for new and expanding work opportunities for our membership. I am proud to carry our issues to all who give us an ear.
Under the direction of Roger Brunelle, our political engagement has ramped up in preparation for next month’s Massachusetts State Primary. Reach out to us to learn about “vote by mail” options and help us mobilize in support of our endorsed candidates. Most particularly, DC has endorsed Joe Kennedy for the U.S. Senate and Jesse Mermell for the open Massachusetts seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each of these candidates is fully committed to the values and agenda of organized labor and will be with us in our future battles to improve the lives of working women and men.
It all comes down to planning strategically for the future. This is the only way to honor our past and improve the lives of our members for the years ahead. Stay safe and be well.