Media coverage of this year’s Labor Day often included what I consider a crucial fact. Namely, the general public has a favorable view of organized labor – but people who want to join unions often fight an unfairly uphill battle.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, who’s been a friend for many years, did a great job throughout a series of interviews explaining why our country is long overdue for extensive labor-law reform. The deck is severely stacked against workers in most traditional organizing campaigns. We’ve gotten to this point through decades of attacks on unions. Those attacks – sometimes sneaky, sometimes brazen – have taken a toll and have eroded too many protections. And that’s basically why the movement’s numbers are where they are. It’s a flat-out falsehood that unions aren’t needed anymore, or that people aren’t interested in joining. Nonpartisan polling shows that people do indeed value what collective bargaining and union representation have to offer. They understand that union representation is the only effective way to have a voice in the workplace. They’d welcome the chance to sign up, and they know that union members consistently earn more money and have better benefits than unrepresented workers. But, too often, employers have all the power during an organizing campaign, and they face few if any penalties for breaking the law.
It’s no secret that when unions are strong, the middle class is strong. And America’s businesses and workers, from the 1930s to the 1970s, grew together. But since then, companies have gotten more prosperous while workers’ pay largely has stayed the same.
We have an opportunity to turn this ship around, and as always, it starts at the ballot box. The 2020 elections, incredibly, are only a year away. There are also elections before the end of this year. Stay informed about the issues and candidates, and support candidates at every level of government who’ll support America’s working families and the maritime industry. The SIU has never cared about political party and that’ll be the case again next year. We’ll back those who back us, period.
Grassroots and Civility
Speaking of politics, I enjoyed recent remarks from the union’s legislative director, Brian Schoeneman. Addressing one of our affiliated unions, he declared that the most important thing union members can do to protect your job and help advance the labor movement in the political arena is to vote.
“There is no more powerful four-letter word in the union vocabulary, even when politicians give us reasons to use a lot of other four-letter words,” he said, and I agree.
Motivating others to vote is also important, and it’s something we can all do. Talk with your co-workers and neighbors about the issues and candidates that matter to you. Encourage them to vote, and if they’re not registered, point them in the right direction.
Brian also underscored the vital significance of political action funds, which for the SIU means SPAD. Those funds are a form of insurance and a virtual prerequisite to have a seat at the table and have our voices heard. Our political donations help to get good candidates elected to office and keep good elected officials in office. Any help you can give is critical.
On a personal note, I encourage all Seafarers to keep it civil when discussing politics, no matter who you’re talking with. It’s often a touchy subject, but our country needs to re-learn the art of civil discourse and focusing on issues rather than personalities.
Last but definitely not least, we are gearing up for a big ceremony in Baltimore that’ll welcome three RO/ROs into the SIU-crewed fleet, just after press time. Whenever we can add new or newer tonnage, it bodes well for our future.
Some of you have heard me say this before, but when we crew up new vessels, it’s a credit to every rank-and-file Seafarer. Our companies wouldn’t build or flag-in new ships and tugs and passenger ferries if they didn’t have confidence in you.
Keep up the great work.