The Iron Workers went in force to the 2013 American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) national convention in Las Angeles, California. These conventions, held every four years, set the goals and policies of the American labor movement. This year’s convention was especially significant, as labor seeks ways to innovate and expand in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The Iron Workers have led the way in efforts to expand organizing, political activism and excellence in training. In recognition of our accomplishments, General President Walter Wise was elected to the Federation’s executive board as a vice president of the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO’s executive board is the decision-making body of North America’s largest labor federation. General President Wise’s election will give the Iron Workers a seat at the table as we tackle the challenges facing organized labor today. Our voices will be heard and our interests will be protected. This has never been as important as it is now, at this transformative time for labor. We face powerful enemies and incredible opportunities, and it will take a heavy helping of ironworker common sense and wisdom to navigate the fray.
The first great challenge facing the AFL-CIO executive board will be fixing the healthcare system. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, made many improvements to America’s broken healthcare system. Although it has helped many people, some of the law’s unintended consequences will damage the multi-employer health plans that most ironworkers rely on. We won’t take any threat to our families’ health and welfare lying down. General President Wise’s seat on the executive board will involve us in the negotiations with the White House to fix the broken parts of the healthcare law.
Another task facing the Federation is renewing the commitment to organizing. The Iron Workers have the most comprehensive and modern organizing program in the building trades. We will lend our experience to the Federation’s search for new and creative ways of organizing workers and rolling back the gains that anti-union employers have made over the last three decades. The benefit to the Iron Workers will be enormous: higher wages and more work hours as labor standards improve across the board.
The Iron Workers will continue to push for bipartisanship from our post on the AFL-CIO executive board. Blind faith in either the Democratic or Republican Party will only lead to organized labor being taken for granted in Washington, D.C. The Iron Workers have deep experience in working with reasonable elected officials on both sides of the aisle. We, along with the rest of the building and construction trades, passed a resolution calling on the Federation to practice the same level of bipartisanship in its political dealings. We will help steward this commitment to fruition.
A single branch, when bent, will snap. A dozen branches, when bent together, will stay whole. Our union is proof of this principle – that by sticking together, we can weather challenges that would break us individually. What is true for individual trade unionists is true for unions as well, and the Iron Workers have always benefited from our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO. From our position of leadership, we will keep this partnership strong and fruitful for years to come.