November 2014

The Need for Political Action Never Stops

By the time you read this, the United States midterm elections of 2014 will have already passed. This magazine went to press before the results came in, so we can’t bask in the glow of victory or pout in the gloom of defeat. What we can do is congratulate the many ironworkers who contributed their time and money to races that mattered to their union brothers and sisters. Thanks also to the ironworkers who took to the polls on Election Day with their families. When we all put in this kind of effort, we can have a real impact on the result.

What’s next? Most people tune out of politics after an election is over, but that is a mistake. The next elections are just around the corner. Canadian federal elections will take place next year, along with an assortment of state and local races in the United States. These elections will affect the jobs and lives of ironworkers, so it’s important to pay attention.

More importantly, and more urgently, we need to engage with the legislative process. After all, what’s the point of engaging in politics in the first place if we can’t get beneficial legislation out of the deal? We’ve put together a guide of legislative priorities in the United States that the Ironworkers Political Action League (IPAL) will tackle in the coming year.

We’ve said this before: our nation’s bridges are aging at an alarming rate while skilled ironworkers are looking for work. The problem is funding. Infrastructure is funded through the gas tax, which hasn’t changed since the Clinton administration. Inflation and improved gas mileage has eaten away at tax revenues in that time. We’ll work with labor and business to find an effective way to guarantee sufficient funding for our roads and bridges, and protect the prevailing wage and project labor agreements that help union contractors win contracts.

Our current immigration system is broken. Unscrupulous employers exploit undocumented workers to build on the cheap, forcing down wages for everyone. We support the building trades efforts to have secure borders, punish exploitive employers, and eliminate unneeded guest worker programs while protecting the basic rights of all workers to organize.

Retirees have had to deal with threats of Social Security cuts every time the federal budget comes up for negotiation. This is no way to guarantee retirement security. Simple adjustments to Social Security funding, such as removing the payroll tax cap for millionaires and billionaires, would keep the system solvent without cuts until after our grandchildren retire. Likewise, pension regulation needs to be updated to strengthen our defined benefit plans in the modern economy. 

Elected officials are becoming more aware of a looming skills gap as many skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen near retirement. A new government focus on education and training is coming, and IPAL will work along with the rest of the building trades to make sure that our apprenticeship programs are a central part of it. We will arrange tours and demonstrations of our apprenticeship facilities to educate decision-makers about the value we bring to workforce development.

The Obama administration is negotiating several trade agreements with foreign countries. The largest of these is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a potential deal with Asian and Latin American countries such as Japan, Mexico, Vietnam, and, potentially, China and South Korea. The contents of the deal are secret, but we have reason to be suspicious. Previous trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), devastated the job market while providing little economic benefit. We’ll pressure the administration to make TPP’s details public and make sure the American people have input.

Take Action!
Legislation is not a spectator sport. While IPAL is working on these goals in Washington, D.C., ironworkers have the power to influence the legislative process from their legislators’ districts. Look out for opportunities to write letters, make calls, and attend rallies alongside your union brothers and sisters. This kind of concerted action makes a difference. Get out there, and make 2015 a winning year for ironworkers!