Clearing air on erroneous beliefs about our Union

President’s Column-Rocky Mountain Teamster
By Steve Vairma, President Joint Council #3

Two facts discovered by a recent membership survey of Teamsters Local 455 in Denver were surprising to me.

One was that our membership doesn’t realize that the Teamsters Union uses only volunteer money for political campaigns. We do not spend your hard earned dues money on politics, and that fact counters blatant lies of our anti-union enemies who are waging war on the workers of this country.

Even though most Local 455 members (58 percent) know that the Teamsters Union does not contribute dues money to political candidates, a relatively large number – 35 percent – said they didn’t know the union’s political contributions were voluntary. It is interesting that 58 percent the same percentage that knew that union political contributions were voluntary – said the union should be involved in politics.

The money contributed by the Teamsters Union to candidates comes from DRIVE, our Democrat-Republican-Independent-Voter-Education program, which, in Local 455, is funded by about 27 percent of the members.

A second fact is that many members don’t realize that both the federal and state governments have the power to abolish the workers’ rights negotiated in a labor contract by a union and management.

Eliminating workplace rights is a common practice. In fact, some 23 states have passed so-called right-to-work laws, which essentially eliminate much of the protection afforded by union contracts while depressing wages and working conditions.

The state of Wisconsin passed a law last year prohibiting collective bargaining. Ohio tried to do it, too, but after the law was passed there, it was repealed by voters. These are not isolated cases; there have been many instances where states have eliminated workers’ rights in areas such as unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and workplace safety, among others.

On the national level, presidential candidate Mitt Romney has announced he supports right-to-work laws. His so called “Plan for Jobs and Growth,” which was released for his presidential campaign, says he “believes that right-to-work legislation is the appropriate course for states, and he will use the bully pulpit” of the presidency “to encourage states to move in that direction.”

Teamster President James Hoffa recently cited an incident in which Romney, campaigning in Wisconsin, related a “humorous” story about his father closing an auto plant and laying off workers in Michigan. Afterward Romney was criticized for being “out of touch.”

But Hoffa recognized Romney’s real motive: “I think the problem with Mitt Romney is that he doesn’t believe working families should have good jobs at good wages.”

Because of the unfortunate Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court just two years ago, more than $100 million has already been injected into our political system through so-called superpacs.

And – unlike the Teamsters’ political contributions – superpac contributions aren’t voluntary, nor are they identifiable. They come from massive pools of corporate profits, which we all pay into but have no control over.

Their money is spent almost exclusively to support candidates seeking to make all working men and women scapegoats for a lousy economy.

They want us all to earn $8 an hour, with no benefits, no job protection, long hours and higher taxes.

They are now able to outspend us by a 20 to 1 ratio, and the gap is growing each day. In number, though, we are far more than they. That is our only weapon.

We must mobilize and beat them at the ballot box.