General Chairperson Adren Crawford of GO-433 (Canadian National — Illinois Central) had the following op-ed column published in the Tennessean on June 26.
To anyone who thinks America’s labor unions aren’t relevant, think again.
In what has become both a sad and challenging time in our history, unions are more important than ever — and with Joe Biden as president, they’ll be stronger.
Across the U.S., working men and women — union members — are responding to the COVID pandemic with the same courage and work ethic that built the middle class and made our country the most productive nation in the world.
For example, the United Auto Workers are now part of the healthcare system, with members building life-saving ventilators at Ford and General Motors.
United Food and Commercial Workers are keeping the shelves stocked, ensuring that we can put food on our tables and enjoy meals with our families.
Members of the Service Employees International Union are standing on the front lines in hospitals and clinics.
Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation (SMART) union members have worked tirelessly running freight trains to maintain the flow of goods — such as delivering chlorine-based disinfectants for water, enabling e-commerce, transporting food, and other essential products.
The list goes on.
Let’s take stock of this historic moment — and, as we march toward the other side of the COVID crisis, let’s recommit to organized labor.
Simply put: Union workers are our heroes right now.
The fact that they’re well-organized at this critical time allows them to push for the necessary personal protective equipment, safe working conditions, and overtime wages that they need in order to support all of us.
Union workers’ courage stands in stark contrast to the behavior of corporations and anti-labor politicians who have spent decades waging war on organizing and collective bargaining.
The predictable results: Stagnant wages, loss of pensions, and exploitation of workers.
As president, Joe Biden intends to correct these inequities.
• Check the abuse of corporate power and hold executives accountable.
This means penalizing employers who pretend to bargain with employee unions while sidestepping meaningful agreements with their workers and also ensuring that federal dollars don’t flow to employers who engage in union-busting activities.
• Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining.
This means extending the right to organize to independent contractors in a fast-growing segment of the economy, enforcing workplace rights for federal employees, and making sure that the National Labor Relations Board does its job in supporting workers.
• Ensure that employees receive the pay, benefits, and protections they deserve.
This means making the minimum wage an actual living wage, directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to expand its enforcement of workplace-safety laws, and protecting undocumented immigrants who report labor violations.
Most importantly, Joe Biden knows that labor rights are civil rights and that the strength of unions is their diversity.
In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, we owe it to all of our brothers and sisters of color to listen, reflect on our own actions, and recommit ourselves to the fight for economic and social justice.
When we emerge stronger after the multiple crises facing our nation, let’s remember the critical role that the American labor movement played in both our economy and our society.
Finally, let’s support Joe Biden for president and renew our commitment to labor — and let us never forget the individual workers who pulled us through this crisis and led the fight for economic and social justice.
Adren Crawford is a general chairperson and proud member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers.
SMART leadership has always been highly engaged in the political process. The focus has been to advocate on behalf of issues and candidates that actively support members and working family issues.
Since the 2016 election cycle, General President Joe Sellers has focused the Union’s efforts to listen to and address feedback from members on local, state and federal issues that affect them at work. This means being transparent and clear with members when asked to support the candidates who most closely align with our issues.
During the past four years, SMART leadership has met with nearly all the presidential candidates and had meaningful dialog regarding our issues. Many of them, we have found, support the issues of importance to the membership of this Union.
One of these candidates is Vice President Joe Biden. SMART met with Vice President Biden’s team several times, all of them being very productive conversations. Vice President Biden, with a long history of interaction with members in both the sheet metal and transportation industries, is acutely aware and engaged in our issues. His team took what they learned from our conversations and created this video to allow the VP to speak directly to you about the issues you have raised concerns about and his position on them.
U.S. rail unions have united in an effort to overturn the sequestration of Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits that was enacted by a GOP-held Congress during the Obama administration and continues to reduce the unemployment and sickness benefits of railroaders nearly a decade later.
A large bloc of the unions are represented by AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member.
A letter to U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio sent by the union coalition requested that they jointly co-sponsor language consistent with the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) to eliminate RUIA benefits from sequestration by amending the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to include RUIA among the other various programs that are not subject to sequestration. Portman, a Republican out of Cincinnati, is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that will make a decision on sequestration.
“Unlike the average U.S. worker, railroad employees do not receive unemployment benefits through state-administered unemployment insurance programs. Instead, unemployed railroaders receive these benefits through the RUIA program, which is administered by the United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB),” TTD President Larry Willis said. “As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, RUIA (benefits) are subject to sequestration. No state unemployment insurance benefits in the country are subject to this unfair treatment.”
RUIA unemployment and sickness benefits are sequestered at 5.9%, and have been subject to reduction for nine years. These rates are adjusted when the federal sequestration is recalculated yearly.
Railroaders are urged to call Portman at (202) 224-3353 to tell him to exclude RRB sickness and unemployment benefits from those reductions.
Read the unions’ joint letter to the senators.
U.S. Reps Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Peter A. DeFazio, chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Gerald E. Connolly, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao opposing President Donald Trump’s removal of former Acting Inspector General Mitch Behm and demanding he be reinstated immediately.
“We oppose President Trump’s removal of long-time public servant Mitch Behm from his position as Acting Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and urge that he be immediately reinstated,” the Chairs wrote to Chao. “Mr. Behm’s removal is the latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General by President Trump. This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.”
On May 15, 2020, President Trump designated Howard R. Elliott, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), to replace Mr. Behm while Mr. Elliott keeps his political post at PHMSA at the same time. Mr. Elliott appears to have no investigatory or law enforcement experience. He is a former executive for CSX Transportation. In contrast, Mr. Behm has served in the office since 2003 and has received numerous awards for his contributions to audits and reviews.
Maloney, DeFazio, and Connolly also sent a letter to Mr. Elliott raising concerns about the conflicts of interest created by his simultaneous roles as PHMSA administrator and acting inspector general.
“This inherent conflict of interest would prohibit you from having the independence necessary to conduct fair and rigorous oversight of the Department and the Secretary,” the chairs wrote to Elliott. “Your dual appointment could severely chill whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Inspector General because whistleblowers might fear that their identities could become known to an official still serving in the Department. It also may chill communication within the Office of Inspector General if auditors or investigators are concerned that you will share information with Secretary Chao before it is appropriate.”
In their letters, the chairs requested information regarding ongoing audits, inspections, investigations, evaluations, reviews, or other engagements, as well as any communications regarding the removal of Mr. Behm and Mr. Elliott’s qualifications for Inspector General by June 1, 2020.