July 2016

Special Election Highlight 2016

Making a Difference for New Jerseyans

Getting to the polls is not just a civic duty—it’s what helps to ensure pro-labor officials are representing working people. Labor has impacted several elections and primaries across the country this year alone. We have won primaries for Hillary. We have helped to elect pro-labor candidates in the Kentucky state House. But we have also helped to elect our own. 

We should support all pro-labor candidates who will stand with us on issues affecting our livelihoods. But union members who run have experienced the obstacles workers and their families face. It is important to support working people that run for office, and want to work to make sure that our voices are heard, whether in their federal, state or local governments. 

Iron Workers International General Vice President Steve Sweeney has represented New Jersey’s third state Senate district since 2002, and has served as Senate President since 2010. He also served as the Democratic Majority Leader and Conference Chair for the Senate from 2008 to 2009. All the while, Sweeney acted as the director of the Board of Freeholders, which is the governing body of Gloucester County, from 1997 to 2010. 

Sweeney hails from Local 399 (Camden, N.J.). He was initiated in 1977, and gained journeyman status in 1980. He was the FST/BA for Local 399, and moved on to become a general organizer for the Philadelphia and Vicinity and Northern New Jersey District Councils in 2008. Sweeney was appointed general vice president of the International in 2014. Brother Sweeney looks to advance and protect workers’ rights, both as a leader within the International and through his public service. 

Sweeney has used his position as a state senator to speak on behalf of working people across New Jersey. In 2002, Sweeney was the prime sponsor of legislation allowing project labor agreements, making New Jersey the first state to have a PLA law in place. After Hurricane Sandy hit and left the citizens of New Jersey to rebuild, Sweeney sponsored legislation to expand the PLA law to ensure that reconstruction was completed by trained workers. PLAs also ensure worker safety and sufficient pay. Gov. Chris Christie, R-NJ, vetoed the bill. 

Sweeney was also the prime sponsor of bills to raise the minimum wage and implement paid family leave. New Jersey is one of just a few states to provide paid family leave. As Sweeney wrote in a Times of Trenton guest column, “[U]nions were the driving force in passing the nation’s second family leave law – one that gave all New Jerseyans, regardless of where they worked,  the ability to be with their families in times of crisis the way my union job enabled me to be with my infant daughter Lauren when she born premature and diagnosed with Down syndrome.”

Sweeney also supported construction jobs and the building of plants throughout the state, and sponsored the New Jobs for New Jersey Act to help incentivize local businesses to hire unemployed New Jerseyans. “With everything going on in New Jersey, it all points back to the old mantra, ‘It’s the economy’,” said Sweeney. “Unless we can get New Jerseyans back to work and attract the new businesses that will be the backbone of our economy for years to come, we won’t ever be able to surmount the challenges we face today.”

Unfortunately, this legislation was blocked. Sweeney alternatively encouraged investing in higher education, not only for students, but also to create construction jobs. Outdated infrastructure at universities do not utilize state-of-the-art technology or resources necessary for student success. The bipartisan bill passed, and voters agreed to the $750 million investment in infrastructure and education.

Sweeney also works to protect veterans, co-sponsoring a bill that would have expanded eligibility for certain benefits. He was even honored with the Outstanding State Legislator Award by the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars in 2011. 

Although he has not yet announced, it is likely that Sweeney will run for governor in 2017 to replace Christie, who cannot serve another consecutive term. A Super PAC called “New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow,” which is managed by former senior adviser to Sweeney and political operative Sean Kennedy, has raised about $1.6 million so far. The super PAC will help to support Sweeney for governor. The Iron Workers have no doubt that Sen. Sweeney will be the next governor of New Jersey. 

Working people like us can make a difference in an election, whether that is through volunteering, contributing, voting, or all three. Some, like Sweeney, even choose to run for office themselves. The Iron Workers have a number of members that hold office across the country, some on the federal level—such as Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Boston, and many on the local level. Local 396 (St. Louis, Mo.) member Travis Barnes is running for state representative of Missouri’s 117th district as we speak. They all bring an important perspective to their legislatures. However, having an ironworker elected to the governor’s seat would be a true triumph not only for ironworkers across the country, but for all working people. 

Checks for the New Jersey Super PAC can be made payable to:

New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow
PO Box 4740, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034

You may also contribute online at: http://nj4bt.com/contribute/

Chris Koster for Governor of Missouri
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, D-Mo., is running to fill the open gubernatorial seat in Missouri. Koster hopes to continue Gov. Jay Nixon’s, D-Mo., efforts to block right to work. Nixon cannot run for another consecutive term.

After years of serving as a Missouri state senator and two terms as attorney general behind him, Koster has continued to stand up for unions and working people in his state. While serving as state senator, Koster proved to support workers and their families. Koster co-sponsored a bill requiring that state employee salaries be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index. In addition, he sponsored legislation providing additional workers’ compensation benefits for public safety workers killed in action. 

Koster supports prevailing wage and project labor agreements. He even fought to ensure that the Cass County Justice Center, a courthouse in Missouri, could be rebuilt using a PLA. Koster also openly supports equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. 

As Local 10 (Kansas City, Mo.) Business Manager Dave Coleman describes, Koster is an “honest, good union-oriented man.”

In 2009, as attorney general, he held contractor Michael B. Robin, who violated wage laws, responsible for exploiting his workers. Robin falsified records to make it appear that his workers were paid the prevailing wage. The contractor was placed on the debarment list for one year, placed in jail for about two weeks, received two years of probation, and had to repay over $3,400 to compensate the working people that did not receive proper wages and benefits. Koster prosecuted a number of additional prevailing wage cases as a public servant, as well. 

As attorney general, Koster has actively come out against Missouri state legislators’ numerous attempts at passing right-to-work bills that would be detrimental to a union’s ability to organize or participate in collective bargaining. “Truly, with Republican super majorities in both legislative chambers, the governor’s pen is the only thing preventing Missouri from becoming a right-to-work state,” said Coleman of Koster’s role in protecting working people across Missouri. 

Be sure to vote for Koster, who will be up against two other candidates, in his state’s Democratic primary on Aug. 2. 

Patrick Murphy Stands for Workers and Unions

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., is looking to take over Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R-Fla., current seat. One of about 11 certified public accountants in the 114th Congress, Murphy brings a fresh perspective to the table. Although Murphy has only been in Congress since 2013, he has made huge strides for workers and their families during his time in Congress. 

Murphy has constantly stood up for working people and unions. Murphy voted no on the “Preventing Greater Uncertainty in Labor-Management Relations” bill, which would have  prevented the National Labor Relations Board from taking necessary actions and stalled productivity on behalf of workers across the country. Ensuring retirement security has been another one of Murphy’s primary concerns. 

Murphy has also been an ardent supporter of raising the minimum wage and pay fairness. The wage gap between men and women in the workforce is a major issue for Murphy.

According to Local 402 (W. Palm Beach, Fla.) Business Manager Sean Mitchell, when Murphy first ran for office, he used Iron Workers’ facilities for debate preparation. Murphy voted no on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and yes on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mitchell added that Murphy attends union meetings at least once per year, attends the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic and the union’s annual legislative breakfast. “Murphy is always on the union’s side in regard to the Davis-Bacon Act and prevailing wage,” Mitchell said. Murphy will seek to represent the Democratic Party in the Aug. 30 primary. 

Russ Feingold, an Ally of Workers

Former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is running to win back his seat in the U.S. Senate, which he served in from 1993 to 2011. Feingold lost his seat to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has consistently supported policies that have harmed working people. Feingold has been officially endorsed by the North Central States District Council, as well as Local 8 (Milwaukee) and Local 383 (Madison, Wis.). 

Feingold served in the Wisconsin state Senate from 1983 to 1993, prior to serving as a U.S. Senator. As Randy Bryce, political coordinator of Local 8, explained, “He lost his election in the very same wave that brought Wisconsin an extreme anti-worker agenda with the likes of Governor Scott Walker.”

Bryce has been acting as chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Veterans’ Caucus. In this position, Bryce works to keep candidates engaged in veterans’ issues. Bryce noted that Feingold has been extremely active on veterans’ issues, and even reintroduced a Veterans Advisory Committee to provide advice to his campaign for Senate. Bryce is one of 15 veterans on this committee. “One thing that I learned right away is that Russ doesn’t try to sell us on why he’s the best candidate,” Bryce said. “He listens.”

Feingold spent his time in office advocating for working people looking for jobs and economic opportunity. Not only has he called for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but he has also focused on creating American jobs as opposed to trade agreements that could lead companies to be incentivized 
to outsource.

As an ally of unions and workers, Feingold consistently defended collective bargaining rights. He stood up against attempts to provide constant obstacles for unions to organize. Feingold also focused much of his efforts on helping Wisconsin’s farmers access credit during the recession. 

According to the North Central States District Council, Feingold is close with local unions. He always votes with labor unions and consistently takes the time to learn about what unions are doing and their priorities. In December, Feingold visited the Iron Workers’ training center, receiving a private tour. He also attended a monthly Iron Workers meeting in May, and has also expressed support for increasing apprenticeship programs. These programs provide training for workers, and are especially valuable for young workers given the current concern of high student debt. 

Vote for Feingold to represent the Democrats in the general election on Nov. 8.

Unions can win elections

On March 8, a crucial set of elections took place in Kentucky. These four races were for the Kentucky state House, and would determine control of the Chamber. Luckily, in Kentucky, the labor movement—and our union especially—was able to prove how important union voter turnout and support can be in an election. Prior to the election, two of the four seats were held by Democrats and two were held by Republicans. Many within the media were predicting low voter turnout and Democratic losses, which would have inevitably led to Kentucky becoming a right-to-work state. However, with everything on the line, our locals were able to put together a massive voter outreach operation and blow all expectations out of the water.

Working people—our members included—were recognized by the leader of the state House, Greg Stumbo, who said, “I don’t think you can overstate just how important organized labor was in the special elections. They gave us a strong foundation to work from, and they were crucial for our ground game.” Our cooperation was especially useful in maintaining control of Kentucky House District 98. The candidate and now-state-Rep. Lew Nicholls’ election depended in large part on the vital support of labor and our membership. In many headlines following the election of Rep. Nicholls, the heavy union presence in his district was highlighted as a key factor in maintaining Democratic control of the seat.

It is vital that we as the Iron Workers, and the labor movement, ensure we get out our own voters and let the wider public know why our voices matter. The legislative chambers in Kentucky and many other states are up in this year’s elections. It is imperative that we get out and vote in right-to-work states, like West Virginia and Michigan, and states that are at risk of right to work, like Kentucky and Missouri. We need to fight to hold and win legislative chambers, stopping right to work the best way that we can. It is no coincidence that the last legislative chamber in the South held by Democrats, Kentucky, is the only state in the South without right to work. State and local elections matter, and have a very direct impact. Let’s not lose sight of this in the face of equally important federal and presidential elections.

Ironworkers at the Building Trades Legislative Conference 

Over four thousand building trades unionists packed the grand ballroom of the Washington Hilton in the District of Columbia this April. They came from every state in the country as delegates to this year’s North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) United States legislative conference. The delegates had a full schedule of policy and politics in front of them, but everyone’s attention was on the stage for the moment. The conference’s keynote speaker was going in to a decisive win in the New York Democratic presidential primary, and expectations were high. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t disappoint, delivering the blockbuster speech of her career to her closest friends in the construction unions.

The Iron Workers were among the first to throw our support behind Hillary, endorsing her before the building trades as a whole. Our initiative didn’t go unnoticed. Clinton singled us out for praise during her speech. She said that a cross cut from steel from the World Trade Center by an ironworker is one of her “most treasured possessions,” and that she will keep it with her in the Oval Office to remind her of what it takes to keep America safe.

Praise is great, but the real value from our endorsement comes from the relationship we’ve built. The pressures of the campaign haven’t stopped Hillary’s team from putting together detailed plans to tackle the challenges facing the United States during the next presidency. The Iron Workers and the rest of the trades have had a voice in putting these policies together. Presidents have a massive amount of power over the work we rely on. Former President George W. Bush, for example, banned the federal government from negotiating project labor agreements (PLAs), contracts that set wages and safety on construction projects in line with local union standards, as his first act in office. We were locked out of countless jobs for the eight years of the Bush administration. Being at the table with the Clinton campaign gives us a chance to ensure that future government projects are built union.

The presidency is only one branch of the government, however, and neither the Iron Workers, nor any of the other trades, are putting all of our eggs in one basket. Iron Worker delegates used their time in D.C. to build relationships with their representatives. State building trades councils held meetings for the members of their congressional delegations to hear about issues affecting members back home. Local union delegates also took their message directly to Capitol Hill, visiting the offices of their members of Congress.

When we weren’t talking, we were listening. The building trades held a series of expert panels on the most pressing issues facing our industry. Delegates were able to ask questions to energy policy wonks about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new regulations on greenhouse gas pollution from coal and gas fired power plants. Local officers from different parts of the country shared tips for meeting diversity goals in their unions. The NABTU legislative team laid out this year’s goals in Congress. Everyone had a chance to pick up new perspectives and solutions for old problems.

Conference delegates worked 14-hour days in Washington, but the real work begins now that everyone is back home. We can’t just rely on relationships in D.C. to meet our needs. Elected officials need to understand that ironworkers are their constituents. By meeting our representatives in their districts, we can keep them accountable regardless of whether or not Congress is in session. We all have the freedom to write letters to our members of Congress, or visit them at their offices. When we do that together, as a union, it amplifies our voice. Staying active, at home and in D.C., is how we really make our mark in government.

Battlefield Missouri

This is part of an ongoing series on right-to-work fights across the United States.

The delegates to the 2015 Building and Construction Trades Legislative Conference had a lot on their agenda. Speakers and meetings throughout the week covered topics affecting the lives of tradesmen and women across North America, from prevailing wage, to apprenticeships, to pensions. With so much on everyone’s minds, you might expect any given speaker to get lost in the mix. From the moment Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon took the lectern, the thousand-plus unionists in the room hung on every word.

Gov. Nixon has been the last line of defense against right to work in Missouri for the past eight years. He could have bragged about any number of past accomplishments in his time on stage, but he focused squarely on the future. Nixon tore into the right-to-work lobby’s tricks in his state. He exposed the policy for the anti-worker sham that it is, and declared that it is wrong for Missouri. He promised to devote his remaining time in office to stopping this rip-off of the working families of the show-me state. The governor’s speech earned the loudest and longest applause of the conference.

If there’s anything we should take away from The Ironworker’s ongoing series on right-to-work battles, it’s that winning these fights takes different tools in different places. In West Virginia, for example, the governor can’t really veto legislation because a veto override requires only a simple majority of the legislature, so everything came down to the state legislature. Missouri’s state legislature has a solid right-to-work majority, so if its state government worked the same way as West Virginia’s, right to work would already be the law of the land. Instead, working families in the state have staved off attacks with a mixture of two strategies: building relationships with pro-union Republicans and keeping a friend in the governor’s mansion.

In the year since the Legislative Conference, Nixon has stood by his promise to veto right-to-work legislation. If we had put all of our resources into electing a Democrat like Nixon for governor, though, it wouldn’t have mattered. Republicans control more than enough votes in the state legislature to override the governor’s veto. Instead, Missouri organized labor has taken its case to Republicans in state government. By winning friends in the Republican majority, we’ve gummed up right-to-work bills in legislative committees for years. When a right-to-work bill finally passed last year, we kept enough Republicans in our corner to avoid a veto-proof majority. Our victory rests on bipartisanship.

Moving forward, our plan grows out of both strategies. Chris Koster started his career as a Republican member of state legislative leadership. He helped us in that role by stopping the party from pushing right to work. Over time, however, he became fed up with the way special interests have pushed the Republican Party away from working people. He became a Democrat and ran successfully for state attorney general. His party may have changed, but his commitment to union workers hasn’t. 

Now Koster is running for governor on an anti-right-to-work platform. He’s blown the whistle on the state legislature for wasting so much time on a bill that puts no one in Missouri to work when they could be building schools and bridges instead. Koster will use the veto to fend our rights just as dependably as Nixon has. He has a special advantage, though, thanks to his background with the Republican Party. He can work with people on both sides of the aisle to keep bad legislation off the agenda and pass laws that actually benefit the people of his state. 

Missouri ironworkers have a clear mission this November to elect Chris Koster as governor. Ironworkers everywhere, however, have lessons to learn from Missouri. If we are going to beat right to work where it raises its head, and beat it back where it’s gotten a foothold, we need to elect governors and state legislators—Republican or Democrat—who will stand up for us when they get into office.

Be Prepared to Vote on Nov. 8

Each local of the Iron Workers International plays a vital role as a community. Members not only protect one another, speak up together, and build trust, but also encourage each other. Local leadership is a part of this community, but it plays a unique role as a resource for members. One of the most important things local leadership can do is encourage members to be engaged in the politics affecting their livelihoods, and to facilitate voter registration.

The union turnout has always been pivotal in determining the outcome of elections. We are a powerful force. It is vital that we get out and vote for officials that will allow us to continue to protect ourselves, allow us to speak up, and allow us to continue to provide for ourselves and our families. When union turnout is high, we can guarantee that our voices are heard. We can greatly influence elections, and have had a remarkable impact in the past.

For example, Local 86 (Seattle) is one of many locals that has made an extra effort to get its members registered, and ensure they have all the tools they need to vote. As Local 86 Business Manager Jeff Glockner pointed out, “The more registered ironworkers, the louder our voice.” Apprentices are given the opportunity to register as a part of their paperwork on day one, and are encouraged to register at the start of classes each year. Local 86 Business Agent Chris McClain said that their registration numbers increased by 20 percent. Once apprentices move on, and even continue on as journeymen, McClain said they continue to ask how to re-register when they change addresses. The importance of registering to vote is indoctrinated from day one, he said. 

The local’s website also provides the link to the voter registration website. Officers mention registering to vote at meetings, and have voter registration posts at dispatch halls. Local 86 helps members that had previously been convicted of felonies reapply to vote, as well. These are all simple steps any local can take to make voter registration more accessible to their members.

Here are some other actions any local can take to ensure that members have all of the information they need to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8:

• Have voter registration forms printed for members to fill out on the spot.
• Have a resource available that provides information on voting locations.
• Provide a ride-sharing option for those headed to the polls that may be retired, veterans, or left without transportation.

Local leadership and members should arrange voting plans in advance. Try your best to work around scheduled work and personal commitments. Leadership and members can work with employers in advance to discuss any changes in schedule or options for Election Day. Heading to the polls together on a break or after hours can save time, as well.