Political Action

Officers Report 2015, Part 2

The political scene for workers in utilities has been rocky.

The war on workers carried out by anti-labor politicians has reached new, harsh levels of destruction for our rights and livelihoods. But we have fought back, and will continue to do so.

The war on workers carried out by anti-labor politicians has reached new, harsh levels of destruction for our rights and livelihoods.

Policital Action, Officers Report 2015, UWUA 30th Constitutional Convention

2011

The last convention in 2011 saw the attack on labor already in progress in a number of states. This fight has expanded, with the arrival of new state legislators and governors sworn to push anti-union measures, including “right-to-work” laws and cutbacks aimed at wages, benefits, and pensions. The 2010 midterm elections saw the spread of extremist Republicans to office in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin, among others. Since then, they have claimed more state and federal seats, including the governorship of Illinois.

The last convention in 2011 saw the attack on labor already in progress in a number of states. This fight has expanded, with the arrival of new state legislators and governors sworn to push anti-union measures, including “right-to-work” laws and cutbacks aimed at wages, benefits, and pensions.

The last convention in 2011 saw the attack on labor already in progress in a number of states. This fight has expanded, with the arrival of new state legislators and governors sworn to push anti-union measures, including “right-to-work” laws and cutbacks aimed at wages, benefits, and pensions.

None of these newly elected Republicans made their anti-worker/anti-union agenda known during their election campaigns. But, it was the first order of business for many of them in the new legislative session that began in 2011. Within days of the UWUA Convention adjournment, Wisconsin’s Act 10 came into effect, gutting public sector labor law in that state. It was signed into law by Republican Governor Scott Walker on March 11.

This was quickly followed in Ohio by State Senate Bill 5, signed into law on March 31 by Republican Governor John Kasich. Because Ohio voters can petition to put legislation on a ballot referendum, after the signing of SB-5, labor unions across the state formed “We Are Ohio,” a labor coalition that set out to repeal SB-5 and protect public workers’ right to strike and bargain contracts. On June 29, 2011, the same day Wisconsin’s Act 10 became effective, “We Are Ohio” delivered a record-breaking 1,298,301 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State, effectively placing SB-5 on the November ballot. Ohioans voted by a 62-38 percent margin against SB-5. The Ohio UWUA locals and their members were there, as an active part of “We Are Ohio.”

Also in 2011, UWUA and Local 132 lobbied hard for utility reform in California. State Senate Bill 705 was proposed in response to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. SB-705 declares that safety must be a utility priority as a matter of state policy. The bill authorizes additional revenue to increase staffing levels for safety related activities, while giving assurances to consumers that these funds will actually be spent for safety. It was signed into law on October 7, 2011.

Political Action Report, Officers Report 2015, UWUA 30th Constitutional Convention

2012

Taking our cue from the success of “We Are Ohio,” UWUA increased member involvement in the political arena. The 2012 UWUA regional conferences focused on political education and activism, while providing local union leadership with the tools to effectively represent the membership on the shop floor and the bargaining table. The UWUA endorsed a number of labor-friendly candidates, with some success, including Elizabeth Warren for the U.S. Senate representing Massachusetts, and Sherrod Brown’s return to the U.S. Senate from Ohio.

The 2012 UWUA regional conferences focused on political education and activism, while providing local union leadership with the tools to effectively represent the membership on the shop floor and the bargaining table.

In early 2012, working men and women from across Michigan gathered at the state capitol to formally launch the “Protect Our Jobs” campaign. Grassroots volunteers, including UWUA members, gathered signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to protect collective bargaining rights and strengthen the middle class. After collecting more than 750,000 signatures, more than double the number needed, the Protect Working Families proposal made it onto the November ballot. However, with a larger than normal number of ballot proposals before them, Michigan voters rejected all proposed amendments to the constitution.

On the plus side, our efforts to re-elect President Obama and Senator Debbie Stabenow were reflected in Michigan voters’ choices. Immediately, the state’s “lame duck” legislature rammed through “right-to-work” legislation, attacking both public and private workers’ right to representation. Although the legislature managed the votes to pass the legislation, they couldn’t muster the vote necessary to pass with immediate effect. Then, in 2012, Indiana’s and Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislatures pushed through new anti-union laws in 2012, becoming the 23rd and 24th “right-to-work” states, respectively. As in all such legislation, union power is undermined, giving management a permanent upper hand in all dealings with their employees.

2013 and 2014

The UWUA took part in several “Listening Sessions” held by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2013. The EPA sought input from the general public and various stakeholders, regarding future federal guidelines for reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants. The UWUA vigorously voiced concern, verbally and in writing, over any plan that would cause the widespread shut-down of coal-fired power plants resulting in job loss, system reliability concerns, and market manipulation.

Regional “Victory Conferences” in 2014 offered members more political education in response to the growing fight. The focus was growing income inequality, legislative attacks, and the need to support labor-friendly candidates.

Regional “Victory Conferences” in 2014 offered members more political education in response to the growing fight. The focus was growing income inequality, legislative attacks, and the need to support labor-friendly candidates. Members were urged to play an active role in getting those candidates elected by volunteering for “labor walks” and phone banks. Workshops in labor history and labor law added to the preparation for the fights ahead.

2014 also saw the passage of California Senate Bill 1371, directing the State Public Utilities Commission and the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive leak detection and repair policy for natural gas utilities.

The goal is reducing pipeline emissions of noxious gases. UWUA and Local 132 lobbied hard, and the bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September. New studies have shown that methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas – as much as 80 times more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Furthermore, in the wake of the disastrous pipeline failures in recent years, improving the safety of our natural gas distribution system remains a high priority. By reducing leaks and defects in our gas pipeline system, SB 1371 addresses two urgent public concerns – public safety and global warming.

New studies have shown that methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas – as much as 80 times more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

In New York, UWUA Local 1-2 pushed for State Senate Bill 6619, which prohibits all gas and electric utilities from closing or moving call centers or other facilities providing customer assistance, without first notifying the NYS Public Service Commission. It also requires the Commission to hold public hearings on the closure or moving of any call centers. It was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on December 17, 2014.

Jobs and the Environment

The UWUA is actively involved in two coalitions concerned with green jobs and working for the environment: Unions for Jobs and Environmental Progress (UJEP) and BlueGreen Alliance. UJEP is an independent association of national and international labor unions that represents more than 3.2 million workers in electric power, rail transportation, coal mining, construction and other energy related industries.

The UWUA is actively involved in two coalitions concerned with green jobs and working for the environment: Unions for Jobs and Environmental Progress (UJEP) and BlueGreen Alliance.

Our action within UJEP has included, but is not limited to, high level meetings with the U.S. EPA, Department of Education, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Office of Management and Budget, to name a few. These meetings and input have more recently taken up the proposed Clean Power Plan, Ozone Standards, and other environmental legislation. We promote the development and commercial usage of Carbon Capture Sequestration in response to the Clean Power Plan.

The UWUA joined the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA) in 2009. Established in 2006 by the United Steelworkers Union and the Sierra Club, the BGA is now a national partnership of ten labor unions and five environmental organizations representing some 14 million people. BGA designs public policy, advocates for practical solutions, and facilitates dialogue between environmentalists, union members, and others. UWUA has appeared at a number of venues and panels with BGA partners, providing commentary on environmental policy, as it affects displaced workers and impacted communities.

The BGA works to expand the number and quality of jobs in the green economy. It advocates for workers’ rights around issues such as the right to join a union, and health and safety. BGA speaks out to change unfair trade agreements by adding binding labor and environmental standards.

The Alliance’s core belief is that workers should not be forced to choose between either decent jobs or a clean environment — both can and must be accomplished. Economic disparity and environmental degradation are two heads of the same coin. Since 2011, the UWUA, working with the BGA and its partner organizations, has taken on these efforts:

BGA also works to improve public health by reducing toxins in the workplaces and communities. The Alliance’s core belief is that workers should not be forced to choose between either decent jobs or a clean environment — both can and must be accomplished. Economic disparity and environmental degradation are two heads of the same coin. Since 2011, the UWUA, working with the BGA and its partner organizations, has taken on these efforts:

  • Developing policies for market drivers, financing and research and development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies for large scale utility and manufacturing application as a part of a way to ensure longevity for fossil fuel power plants while addressing climate impacting emissions.
  • Testifying at congressional briefings in support of a National Infrastructure Bank Bill to finance large infrastructure projects on a national and state level by leveraging public and private financing to put Americans back to work, grow decent jobs, improve the economy, and eliminate waste and inefficiency that contribute to environmental damage.
  • In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the continuing drought conditions of the American west, calling for building more resilient communities to withstand and recover from the increasing number and effects of severe weather and a changing climate, by focusing policies on Smart Investments, Modern Infrastructure, Healthy Environments, and Education and Collaboration.
  • Advocating for improving the current spent nuclear fuel management policy by thinning out over-crowded cooling pools and ramping up more dry cask storage at the nation’s nuclear power plants.
  • Working to stop “Fast Track” Agreements of free trade, specifically the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which represents 38% of the total world economic activity. Fast Track authority by the Administration does not provide full disclosure or debate on the details of a free-trade agreement. The UWUA and the BGA partners have called for a “Fair Trade” agreement instead of a “Free Trade” agreement, to improve everyone’s quality of life and raise standards protecting workers, consumers, democratic processes and the environment.
  • Repair America is the effort of the UWUA, the BGA and its partner organizations to fix our aging water and wastewater systems, electrical grid, natural gas distribution system, transit systems, communication systems and roads and bridges. America’s infrastructure — the systems we rely on every day for transportation, clean water, energy, and to communicate with each other — earned a “D+” from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The goal is to get Americans working together again to build this backbone of systems we rely on every day.
  • The UWUA, along with the BlueGreen Alliance and the AFLCIO, launched Repairing Our Cities’ Aging Pipelines (RECAP), an effort to bring together the business, labor and environmental communities to modernize our natural gas pipeline network and accelerate current efforts to repair America’s natural gas distribution pipelines. Tripling the current rate of repair could create more than 200,000 new jobs in a decade, while reducing methane emissions, which have a much more rapid climate change impact than carbon dioxide.

The UWUA calls for the establishment of a Clean Energy Transition Fund on a national scale to ensure that workers displaced from closing power plants and affected fossil fuel extraction sites receive transition support, including wages, benefits and retraining; expand existing economic development programs to enable communities to respond to power plant closings or downscaling; and support climate resilient infrastructure projects in communities where plants are closing.

The UWUA calls for the establishment of a Clean Energy Transition Fund on a national scale to ensure that workers displaced from closing power plants and affected fossil fuel extraction sites receive transition support

The BGA and its alliance organizations have stood up for UWUA members by protesting the closure of two power plants, (Mitchell and Hatsfield Ferry Stations) and the lockout of Local 180 members by FirstEnergy.

In 2014, the UWUA and the BGA supported Congressmen Peter Welch (D-VT) and David McKinley (R-WV) for their work on the Healthy Employee Loss Prevention Act. Training programs need to lead to quality employment, matching or exceeding the well paid jobs that have been lost. Pensions and benefits of displaced workers must be ensured.

The UWUA has provided independent legislative action, testifying on critical state and national issues, including Clean Power Plan comments in Washington, DC, and other listening tour cities. We also continue to monitor and provide input to FERC, RTOs, and other venues. The UWUA focuses on our members, families, and communities, and constantly advocates for safe, reliable, affordable services.

2015 and Looking Ahead

The 2015 Convention is taking stock of recent events in various states and preparing for the future. In particular, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has led a Republican-controlled legislature to intensify its assault on working families. He signed into law State Senate Bill 44, making Wisconsin, an important industry center, the 25th “right-to-work” state.

In response, the UWUA works with local and state legislative friends in states like Pennsylvania, which has generated interest and action favoring UWUA membership. Our input and influence prompted PA Representative Pam Snyder to introduce State House Bill 2030, holding coal companies more accountable for the effects of power plant closures. Although the bill died at the end of the session, Rep. Snyder is working with UWUA to reintroduce it in the next session, with a goal of bringing similar bills forward across the country.

Our input and influence prompted PA Representative Pam Snyder to introduce State House Bill 2030, holding coal companies more accountable for the effects of power plant closures.

Unionized public sector employees across the state are also under attack by Republican legislators, who are pushing a “Pay Check Protection” act in the State House that aims to eliminate dues deduction. The bill has been opposed by legislators from both parties. Ending dues deduction for teachers and other public sector employees is a first step to “rightto- work” legislation. The UWUA is currently lobbying hard against these actions. In 2015, for the first time in 80 years, both chambers in the West Virginia Legislature are controlled by Republicans.

This new state majority wasted no time in launching a nationally coordinated attack on unions and working families by immediately introducing “right-to-work” legislation. Organized labor mobilized a unified, boots-on-the-ground effort, which eventually finished off the bill without action at the end of session. On March 7, 2015, UWUA Vice President John Duffy joined AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, UMWA President Cecil Roberts, and other national and statewide labor leaders and thousands of West Virginia union members to denounce RTW. The UWUA had a strong presence at the rally, and vowed to continue to pressure WV elected officials.

The Michigan legislature is now considering bills to repeal prevailing wage laws; preempt local governments from establishing any ordinance that regulates employer-employee relationships, living wage or paid sick time that is better than what is in state law; and requiring public employee unions to recertify as the exclusive bargaining agent every two years.

In New York State, legislation is now pending to give “First Responder” status to utility workers. Another bill would defend worker safety by making an assault on a utility worker a felony offense. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown introduced the Healthy Families Act. Under the proposal, companies with 15 or more employees would be required to allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days, while those with fewer than 15 employees would have to provide up to seven unpaid sick days. This is badly needed federal legislation, as many Americans are currently forced to choose between either going to work sick, or losing a paycheck. Sen. Brown recognizes this, and has always been strongly endorsed by the UWUA. UWUA Staff The UWUA took part in “Days of Action” in several locales, writing, lobbying, and promoting successful resolutions.

The UWUA continues to provide leadership, insight and action on the local, state and national labor movement.

We joined many labor movement events, from internal meetings to public gatherings. Our numerous seats on state federation boards, state commissions, Central Labor Council leadership groups and special committees, are indicative of our contributions and influence in the labor movement as a whole. The UWUA continues to provide leadership, insight and action on the local, state and national labor movement.

The UWUA will continue to be engaged in the political arena for the good of our members. We will do that by educating the membership on the issues, and which public officials are friends and supporters of the working class. Our victory conferences will continue to serve as a vehicle for doing that. And, our COPE fund is there to help those politicians that pledge to help us. Our COPE fund is made possible by contributions from the membership. Information on contributing to the UWUA COPE fund can be found on the National website at UWUA.net.

The UWUA will continue to be engaged in the political arena for the good of our members. We will do that by educating the membership on the issues, and which public officials are friends and supporters of the working class


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