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USA: Courts Block State Laws Aimed at Protecting Workers, For Now

Labourstart.org News - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Bloomberg
Categories: Labor News

ILWU Executive Board holds final session with Presidential candidates

ILWU - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 15:39

Candid conversation: Former Vice President Joe Biden took questions and discussed his strategy to win in 2020.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and retired investor Tom Steyer became the 4th and 5th 2020 U.S. Presidential candidates to visit ILWU headquarters in San Francisco where both had separate free-ranging discussion with members of the International Executive Board. Candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren met with the Executive Board in August, as did Senator Kamala Harris who dropped-out of the race last month.

“We invited all candidates to talk with elected ILWU leaders about the issues that matter most to working families and union members,” said International President Willie Adams.

As he has done with all candidates who visited the ILWU, Adams greeted each with a warm welcome and provided a short introduction – then stepped back so they could deliver their own “stump speech” – 15 to 30 minutes of carefully crafted remarks that sounded fresh, passionate and personal – despite having delivered something similar at hundreds of events in recent months. Adams then opened the deck for questions from Board members and officers.

First up: Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer chose the morning time slot and received a warm round of applause after being introduced by President Adams, who explained the candidate’s unusual background as a hedge-fund CEO who became a billionaire before retiring and now uses his wealth to advocate for progressive causes, including climate change, fighting the Keystone oil pipeline opposed by Native Americans and ILWU members, and urging Congress to hold President Trump accountable for abusing the powers of his office for personal gain and obstruction of Congress. Steyer began by explaining why he chose to run for president.

“For the last ten years, I’ve been part of coalitions of ordinary Americans who are taking-on the unchecked power of corporations,” Steyer said. “The reason I’m running for president is simple: I think corporations have bought the government. Until we take the government back, we are not going to get any of the progressive policies that every single person in this room wants.” Steyer said he supports affordable healthcare, quality education, living wages, clean air and a fair vote. “These are rights that every American should have,” he said.

Funding progressive initiatives

Steyer says he has contributed over $130 million to fund progressive ballot initiatives in California, starting in 2010 with his role in defeating Prop 23, that would have rolled-back the state’s global warming law. He also contributed to initiatives that aimed to improve public transportation and increase taxes on the wealthy to fund public education.

Long-standing ties with unions

Steyer has made a point of working with unions, mobilizing his group called NextGen America, and with the California Labor Federation knocked on millions of doors to increase voting in the last two election cycles. “My first partner in everything I have done is organized labor,” he said. “My best partner in everything I have done has been organized labor and unions.”

War on workers

Steyer believes corporate American “has a strategy to break the power of unions in order to make it easier for them to keep all the money, which they’ve been doing for the past 40 years. The Republican strategy is to cut taxes for the wealthy, cut education, cut healthcare, attack organized labor, and allow as much pollution as they want.

Political outsider

Steyer said his position as a political outsider who came from the world of finance, is an asset. “I think an outsider who has been successfully fighting corporations for decades, is the person you want to take back the government,” Steyer said, adding that he supports congressional term limits and a national ballot initiative system, similar to California’s.

Questions from the Board

Local 63 OCU President John Fageaux led the questions with one that was on many minds, asking Steyer, “What’s it like to be a billionaire?” Steyer said he plans to give away at least half of his wealth to good causes while he is alive, explaining that he is using that money to help make America a better country.

“There’s a larger question about what we are doing on this earth. I’m deeply interested in having a meaningful life and feeling like I’ve left the campsite better than I found it,” he said.


Local 34 Board member David Gonzales asked about Steyer’s position on immigration. Steyer said the Trump Administration’s policy was rooted in racial discrimination and that the practice of separating children from their parents at the border violates human rights and international laws that protect people seeking asylum.

“We have a president who, on his very first day of running for office, vilified and attacked Latinos. He’s has used immigration as a racist attack on people of color,” Steyer said.

Support for the Jones Act

Marina Secchitano, President of the Inlandboatmen’s Union, asked Steyer if he supported the Jones Act that protects good union maritime jobs and whether wind turbines off the California Coast should be covered by the Jones Act. Steyer said he supported the Jones Act and clean energy policies that will create millions of good-paying jobs.

“I’m the person in this race who first pledged to make climate their number one priority,” Steyer said. “If we do it the way I propose, we will create 4.5 million jobs, and they will be good-paying union jobs.”

The right to clean air and water

Responding to a question by Local 26 President Luisa Gratz about whether oil companies should be allowed to use fracking to get more oil, Steyer said, “Nobody has the right to poison you and your family so they can make more money. In terms of fracking, if a company is poisoning the water and causing cancer, that has to stop.”

Gratz also asked Steyer about his plan to defeat Trump.

“The Republicans are going to run on the economy. The Democratic nominee has to run on the economy and I can do that,” Steyer said. “Donald Trump is a total fake. He’s a fake business person. He played a business person on a reality TV show, and he’s a fake as a president in terms of economics, and I’m going to expose that.” International Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris asked Steyer for details about his climate action plan, to which Steyer pledged to declare a “state of emergency” on day one – then establish ‘something like’ the Green New Deal, and adopt a justice-based approach to the environment by cleaning-up air and water pollution in communities where it is unsafe to breathe the air and drink the water.”

“America is the only country that can lead the world in this, and if we don’t, it isn’t going to happen. This also gives us a chance to rebuild the United States, and make our country more just, while creating millions of good-paying union jobs. It’s the biggest challenge in the history of the planet and we have to succeed together.”

Student loan debt

Local 22’s Dax Koho asked Steyer about the growing problem of college student debt. Steyer said, “Banks are loan sharking a bunch of kids. The interest rate on student loans should be one percent. And students who take a job that serves our country – in the military, teachers, nurses, social workers— your loan should be forgiven as part of your pay,”

Criminal justice reform

International Vice President Bobby Olvera, Jr. asked about criminal justice reform and Steyer said he supports reforming policing practices, eliminating cash bail, getting rid of mandatory minimums, and combatting discrimination against formerly incarcerated people for voting, housing, and employment.

“The Department of Justice should make sure that police officers who misbehave, especially in regards to race, must be corrected,” Steyer said.

Public option, not Medicare for all

Local 19’s Dan McKisson asked Steyer about his views on healthcare reform. Steyer said health care was a right and that he supports a public option along with private health insurance, but opposes Medicare for All. “Over 160 million Americans have negotiated for health insurance. I just hate telling 160 million people that we know better than you do about your life,” he said.

Biden arrives

Former Vice President Joe Biden – current leader of the pack hoping to challenge President Trump – was escorted into the room by President Adams – and the entrance was telling. He shook hands and greeted Board members and guests as if they were old friends – quickly established rapport with many in the room.

His stump speech was sometimes emotional and occasionally brash, but aimed more often for sincerity and heart-felt conviction. There were also a few slips of the tongue – an old Biden habit that some find endearing and others see as a weakness. He addressed the flaws by telling a story about him stuttering as a child and confronting the neighborhood bullies who taunted him. “I know how to deal with bullies and win,” he says, making an obvious reference to defeating Donald Trump.

And Biden isn’t shy about promoting his frontrunner status and “electability” – a label he wears proudly that is confirmed by polls showing him ahead of fellow Democrats and beating Trump in a match-up. At the ILWU, he emphasized the impressive support he’s attracted from African American voters that should help him in South Carolina after the dust settles in Iowa and New Hampshire. Biden explains that support by emphasizing his eight years with President Obama, connections with the civil rights movement and 36 years of service as Senator for

Delaware, which he said has the 8th largest percentage of African Americans in the nation – over 20% – which is higher than North Carolina and over three times greater than California. After establishing his political cred, Biden pivoted to what most wanted to hear: his views about working families and unions. Biden began by citing some well-known facts, beginning with the decline of union density in the private sector that was 25% when he was first elected to the Senate in 1972, down to just above 6% today. He quoted from the National Labor Relations Act, passed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, saying, “it calls on the government to actively promote unions – not just legalize them.” And he repeatedly expressed support for the latest labor law reform bill in Congress, called “Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO-Act.”

Responding to a question from Local 30 member Kevin Martz about the decline of aerospace jobs in the Antelope Valley, Biden said the federal government has enormous purchasing power plus the ability to create jobs and influence investment. He added that federal contracts should include a requirement that forces companies to obey labor laws or lose their contracts.

Local 34 member David Gonzales asked how Biden would make changes at the border and with immigration. “It’s all about family – and family separation must end,” said Biden. He also pledged to provide fair hearings for asylum seekers escaping violence – and said he would do more to combat poverty and corruption that contribute to migration.

Biden responded to an inquiry from Marina Secchitano, President of the Inlandboatmen’s Union, about the Jones Act, saying he remains a strong supporter. He then pivoted to the need for more good union jobs that would result from his $100 billion renewable energy program that would be funded with tax credits to spur private investment.

Vice President Bobby Olvera, Jr., asked Biden what he would do to help the next generation make the world a better place. That question became an opportunity for Biden to talk about some personal experiences – including the loss of his son Beau to cancer, that helped shaped his own priorities for the future.

Biden said as a young man, he was influenced by the civil rights movement and decided to leave a fancy law firm in order to become a public defender. He ended his talk with a rallying cry.

“We’re in a battle for the soul of America,” he concluded, “and you’re gonna see the U.S. coming back.”

Samantha Levens welcomed

Samantha Levens: new ITF Inspector for Northern California

President Willie Adams introduced the Board to Samantha Levens, the newly-hired Inspector for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) who will be working out of the Bay Area. A longtime activist and elected leader from the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) San Francisco Region, Levens has also worked as an ILWU Organizer.

“I’m honored to be working as an ITF Inspector and look forward to help seafarers organize for their rights and build solidarity between all maritime workers,” they said.

Organizing Reports

International Vice President (Mainland) Bobby Olvera, Jr. led a series of presentations on the union’s new organizing program that he’s overseeing to support and involve all parts of the union.

“We’re developing a comprehensive program with some new and different approaches,” said Olvera, Jr., who called on several organizing staff to make brief presentations to the Board, including Organizing Director Ryan Dowling, Assistant Organizing Director Jon Brier, Bay Area Organizer Agustin Ramirez and Researcher Bridget Wack.

Each detailed the new work they’re doing to protect good jobs for existing members and help grow the union. Signs of progress include a newly-negotiated first contract secured by 65 workers at the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, where employees organized to win significant pay and benefit improvements. Another report detailed an ongoing successful campaign to help 65-110 maritime-related workers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography/University of California, who are in the process of affiliating with the ILWU’s Marine Division – the Inland- Boatmen’s Union (IBU). These University employees operate and support a fleet of four scientific research vessels near San Diego. They’ve already signed union cards and are preparing for the next steps to organize.

“I expect we’ll have more good news to share with you at the April Board meeting,” said Olvera, Jr.

New Board member John Simpliciano

President Adams administered the oath of office to new International Executive Board member, John Simpliciano, who was welcomed with a warm round of applause from fellow Board members. John currently works as a temporary Business Agent at the Maui Division Office where he helps Local 142 members.

$93 million jury verdict discussed

Other action at the Board included a briefing and discussion about the $93 million jury verdict against the ILWU, that was covered in last month’s Dispatcher. The Board held their discussion in executive session. The verdict is the subject of a federal court hearing scheduled for February 14.

Resolution to save historic art

A resolution submitted by Local 10 passed unanimously, calling on the ILWU to help preserve historicmurals at Washington High School in San Francisco that were created by artist Victor Arnautoff in the mid-1930’s. They depict injustices inflicted on Native and African Americans by the “founding fathers.” The artist also created many murals celebrating the contributions of working people and their struggles to establish labor unions – including the ILWU.

Legislative Report

In addition to detailed reports provided from each Board member about developments in their local or region, an extensive report on legislation and political action was presented by Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin. Recent legislative efforts include influencing the National Defense Authorization Act – a mammoth spending bill. McLaughlin said the ILWU was successful in securing language that allows longshore workers to work on defense installations using TWIC credentials. The Pentagon is objecting and wants further background checks, so McLaughlin will continue working on the issue. The union was also successful in seeing that the Maritime Committee on Occupational Safety and Health would be treated as a “standing committee” which requires regular meetings. The effort was needed because the Trump administration was preventing the Committee from meeting. Finally, the ILWU successfully stopped efforts to use federal dollars for port automation projects. The law will prevent funding for automation unless it can be shown that no jobs would be lost.

In other legislative work, the ILWU helped influence House appropriation language that instructs government grain inspectors to not cross picket lines. In another matter, California Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter expressing concern about dangerous shipments of cyanide from China that could arrive at the Port of Oakland for use in gold and silver mines. She requested the Department of Homeland Security to review that matter prior to any shipments arriving from China.

The potentially lethal material is not properly packaged to protect workers and nearby residents from what could become a catastrophe.

There was an update on a pension “reform” bill that would punish current workers to help pay for ailing pension plans. The ILWU wants pension benefits protected for all workers and is seeking federal funds to help – a policy opposed by the Trump administration.

Resolution on Political Action

McLaughlin’s report concluded with a focus on political action – emphasizing the importance of member participation and involvement in the fight for good jobs, protecting pensions, Social Security, Medicare, and other concerns for working families. The Board unanimously passed a resolution calling for a plan to improve political action at the local union level. International President Willie Adams announced that Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris had been assigned to visit local unions and help them build a political action program that includes education, voter registration, and voluntary contributions to the ILWU Political Action Fund.

“I’m planning to hit the road after the holidays to help locals get rolling with political action work that’s so important now,” said Ferris. “We can’t allow our jobs and the union’s future to be dictated by the powerful interests who control politics now,” he said.

Resolution supporting Local 9

Finally, the Board unanimously passed a resolution carried by Local 22 that calls for the International Union to express support for Local 9 members working at SEATAC Airport who are trying to negotiate a new contract.

The next meeting of the ILWU International Executive Board will take place in April, on a date yet to be determined.

“There’s a good chance the Board will consider endorsing a presidential candidate at that meeting,” said International President Willie Adams.

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