Mid-Term Elections Tough for Maritime Labor


December 2014


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Democrats during the Nov. 4 mid-term elections suffered historic defeats—losing control of the U.S. Senate, relinquishing more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and experiencing setbacks in key governors’ races across the country.


While the SIU has always had friends on both sides of the aisle, the losses were significant for the union and for American maritime labor as a whole, according to SIU Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman – though not because of party affiliations.


“The 2014 mid-term elections were very difficult for maritime labor,” he said. “We lost a number of long-term friends in both the House and Senate, including such stalwarts as U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK).


“At the same time, many of our closest friends, like maritime caucus co-chair U.S. Rep. Mike Grimm (R-NY) overcame difficult odds to prevail,” Schoeneman continued. “With Republican control of the Senate, getting legislation passed should be easier with a unified Congress, but that also means we must be even more vigilant because the pace of legislation will move faster and we’ll have less time to educate members of the House and Senate before legislation comes up for a vote.”


Even with this shakeup in the legislative landscape, Schoeneman remains optimistic about maritime labor’s immediate and long-term future. He said that going forward, union officials and maritime industry allies will once again step up to the plate, establish and maintain rapport with lawmakers, and solicit their backing of initiatives and programs that protect national and economic security while promoting American maritime jobs.


“Any new Congress gives us an opportunity to make new friends, educate our representatives on the critical importance of our industry on our country, and continue to protect the Jones Act, cargo preference and the Maritime Security Program,” he said. “We’re looking forward to working with the new Congress in January.”


Similar optimism was expressed by Richard Trumka, president of the nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO. From his perspective, despite some disappointing political results for millions of union members and all working families during the election, the vast majority of Americans made clear that they want an economy that works for everyone.


“The defining narrative of this election was confirmation, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Americans are desperate for a new economic life,” said Trumka. “But the fact of the matter is that people are disillusioned by endless political bickering and  eyed these elections with great dispirit.


“In way too many elections, they got a false choice. In these very difficult times, they did not get a genuine economic alternative to their unhappiness and very real fear of the future,” Trumka added. “But when voters did have a chance to choose their future directly – through ballot measures – their decisions are unmistakable”


Federation sources say an election-night survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that while Republicans won many races on political grounds, voters heavily support working family issues. Voters favor increasing Social Security benefits by 61 percent-30 percent; raising the federal minimum wage by 62 percent-34 percent; taxing American corporations on profits they make overseas by 73 percent-21 percent; and increasing funding for public schools by 75 percent-21 percent. Additionally, voters opposed many traditional conservative issues such as raising the Social Security retirement age (27 percent-66 percent) and raising the Medicare eligibility age (18 percent-76 percent).


Voters sounded the loudest economic message in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota, where minimum wage increases were overwhelmingly approved. San Francisco and Oakland also will likely raise the minimum wage, and all four ballot initiatives supporting paid sick days passed. Successes such as these pave the way forward for a host of new ideas, ranging from how worker schedules are formulated to living wage legislation, paid sick leave and equal pay.


“It’s clear that American workers and their families are way ahead of the political elite when it comes to envisioning the next American chapter,” Trumka concluded. “I was out there all fall. I was in almost every contested state. I spoke to hundreds and hundreds of workers. Their desire for bold, comprehensive and lasting economic change is the most real thing I’ve ever heard.”



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