John Duffy, National Vice President
31St UWUA Constitutional Convention = Union Solidarity
This year we will once again come together as members of a strong and vibrant National Union at our 31st Convention. It has now been 73 years since our first convention back in 1946. While the world has changed much since that time, one thing has remained a constant — the importance of solidarity amongst the membership.
Over all those years, advances made in wages, benefits and safety didn’t come easy. Many labor disputes in the form of strikes and lockouts are all a part of our history that kept the livelihoods of our members on a progressive path.
Today, that solidarity continues with our members coming together at meetings on the shop floor, general membership meetings, UWUA training sessions, Regional Conferences and Power for America conferences. And naturally, the biggest display of our solidarity takes place at our Constitutional Conventions.
Solidarity makes us strong
Our conventions are an opportunity for members from our local unions across the country to meet under one roof, take a look back at the past four years, and chart a path for the future. The struggle to maintain and improve the livelihoods of our members is ever constant. But it is union solidarity that is fundamental to our successfully facing all challenges today and in the future.
The last thing unscrupulous employers want to see is union members standing strong together. That solidarity, or lack thereof, affects everything in the workplace, from a safe work environment, to effective contract negotiations and enforcement.
Employers will always try to take advantage of a divided membership, especially during contract negotiations. However, member solidarity will always put union negotiators in a strong position at the bargaining table. A good example of that is the national benefits bargaining with American Water. That national benefits agreement covers thousands of union workers throughout American Water. The vast majority of those workers are members of the Utility Workers Union. The remaining members are in local unions affiliated with the following national unions: United Steel Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Chemical Workers Council of UFCW, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Teamsters, Laborers International Union, Service Employees International Union, and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
All contract negotiations are a serious and often contentious process. But negotiations for the National Benefits Agreement with American Water are much more complicated with so many separate locals affiliated with nine different national unions. In this setting, there can be many different concerns and priorities with members from coast-to-coast. And giving everyone the assurance that, while every single concern may not be resolved to a degree that is wanted, the overall agreement will be one that provides good benefits for all members covered under the agreement.
In 2018, UWUA Senior National Representatives Shawn Garvey and Jim Gennett led those benefits negotiations. In June of that year, a tentative agreement was reached on a new benefits package. That agreement was later ratified by the membership by an 83% margin.
The unity displayed during national benefits bargaining with American Water is a perfect example of solidarity at its best. All of the local unions that participated in that bargaining understood the importance of union solidarity. There were no inflated egos in the room to weaken our stance at the bargaining table.
And so too, are our Constitutional Conventions a perfect example of union solidarity. With our local unions gathering from all over the country pledging support for one another, and following through on that support, provides us with the collective strength that makes us the strong and vibrant union that we are.
“There is no power in the world that can stop the forward march of free men and women when they are joined in the solidarity of human brotherhood.” — Walter Reuther