Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teamsters and Communication Workers Sound Alarm, Call for Action

by Phil E. Benjamin

Hoffa and Cohen Address ARA: "Health Care and Employee Free Choice Are Two We Expect"

Speaking before several hundred delegates from labor unions from all unions in the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, both Jim Hoffa head of the Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters and Larry Cohen head of the Communication Workers of America inspired everyone to keep the fight up for both real health care reform and the card check legislation in the Congress.

The Alliance for Retired Americans' Annual Legislative Conference is taking place in Washington, D.C. over a four day period. Barbara Easterling, from CWA, is the president of the ARA.

Edward Coyle, Executive Director of the ARA, sounded the theme, "Lets Get a Health Care Bill in a Form We Can Support."

Hoffa Sounds the Alarm

Here some of the themes that Jim Hoffa talked about with the applauding crowd.

He said these things after making it clear that the IBT was one of the first unions to come out for Barak Obama in the Spring of 2008.

We are in this "to get the change that we fought for."

"We have to keep their feet to the fire, in Congress." The problem that is within the Beltway, they "don't feel the pain of everyday people….they are insulated."

He went after the trade agreements: "Globalism is another word for sending jobs overseas."

He said that there is "NAFTA, CAFTA and SHAFTA, we are getting shafted….these are killer trade agreement."

"They're making money now, we want to make money."

"Did anyone in this room cause the recessions? Anyone here cause the Wall Street drop? NO, OF COURSE NOT."

"Your voice is necessary in Congress."

"Unfortunately, the Administration is spending its time in bailing out Wall Street; What about us? We have to stop the attack on pensions. We must support our pension system. The PPGC is $10 Billion underfunded….they should be investing there. We have to stop the foreclosures."

Hoffa made it clear, "If Congress doesn't here from us the Corporations will win!

"I recently traveled to Canada. I told them, we want what they have: Health care and Card Check."

Hoffa counted the new members in Congress: "We added 24 in the House and 9 to the Senate…..We got power."

But, now the Administration is saying, "We don't have the votes. We say it's the Administration's job to get those votes."

Hoffa said that Congress doesn't see things the way we see things on Trade agreements.

"I had a visit from the lobbyist from Columbia asking why I cannot support CAFTA. I told her that over 2,400 labor leaders have been killed in Columbia; 30 in 2008. She said that that was an improvement. I told her, we want nobody being killed."

Hoffa then referred to his home state Michigan. "We have 12.9% unemployment in Michigan right now; and, by all forecasts that number will be a national number very soon."

He urged the delegates, when they lobby tomorrow, to keep in mind that, "This is our Time; This is Union Time."

He received a standing ovation.

Larry Cohen

The next speaker was Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America. Before he spoke the delegates were shown a powerful 15 minutes video advocating the Employee Free Choice Act.

He said the CWA four points are:

Without Bargaining Power There is NO Power
Political Power
Jobs and Trade
Retirement Security

He made it clear that, "We are one labor movement."

He said that the current period of bargaining to defend what you have is a losing proposition. "We are clinging to what we have."

His example is the CWA and USWA [Steelworkers] at General Motors. Under bankruptcy those workers, union members, are losing all their health benefits. They are being treated differently from the autoworkers.

"They are putting Free Trade ahead of peoples well being." "You can't eat what you can't produce."

He said that the White House and Treasury have cast our members, 27,000 along with 4,000 Steelworkers, aside. We are being told we have to negotiate with the OLD GM in bankruptcy court. This is a disaster which will affect us all. Remember in the Thirties they tried to come after us one at a time…we have to stand together."


We are currently negotiating our contract at AT &T. We are looking directly at the Comcast workers who are being severely hurt in this process.

Retiree health care is in deep trouble.

The Republicans are flying in 300 CEOS from California to lobby Congress against the Card Check bill. "The Chamber of Commerce knows we got 60 votes in the Senate and they are fighting it tooth and nail. In the House we have 250 votes and only need 217. In the Senate we need all 60 votes."

Cohen repeated the main theme that Hoffa started. The Republicans have full unity, all 40 votes on Card Check. We don't and be can still get it. He said we have to get it. He pointed to Pennsylvania were they delivered 65,000 hand written letters to Arlen Spector to get him to vote for Card Check. His Democratic opposition in the 2009 election is for Card Check.

"We stand for working families not the Chamber of Commerce."

He said in almost every industrial country there is Card Check. "Even in Brasil there is card check where just a few decades ago the ultra right ruled. And, South Africa also has Card Check. Right now 365 of workers in Brazil and 46% in South African have Card Check. In the U.S. our overall union members is just 7%."

Cohen sighted the case of Sarah Stephens and the Contra Costa newspaper she worked for. "They tried to sign up members for a union and they did. The newspaper fired Sarah, but she continued to fight even with her pregnancy. Now just a couple of from the one year deadline, they will be voting a contract next week. But, Sarah has still not got her job back. Getting cards signed and then a union is like a Torture Chamber in our country."

"Congressman George Miller a staunch supporter of Card Check held hearings where Sarah spoke."

Cohen echoed the sentiments of Hoffa when he said that the Republicans have demanded complete unity of their 40 votes in the Senate over the procedural vote over filibuster; but so far, the Democrats haven't. " We expected the Administration to do the same as the Republicans and keep our 60 in line. We cannot expect anything less."

Health Care and Card Check

Hoffa, Cohen and the leadership of ARA made it clear that health care reform "that we can support and Card Check. They go together."

This is probably the most intense period of time for the labor movement, the peoples' movement and all of us in the history of our country. If there is any notion that labor and peoples' organizations are rolling over against the overwhelming odds, this is very wrong impression.

On June 25, in the middle of the National CWA convention, the CWA is calling a major demonstration in Washington to Lobby every member of Congress. Buses are coming from NYC and along the East Coast. Maybe the Midwest will join in.

Stay tuned.