Former UTU International President Al Chesser (1972-1979) is now 97 years old, and the fire in his belly in support of organized labor has never dimmed.
The following was written by Chesser in response to creation by President Mike Futhey of the Collective Bargaining Defense Fund, intended to create public awareness of — and opposition to — the attack on collective bargaining rights by political extremists in scores of states and in Congress. Before his election as UTU International president, Chesser was the UTU’s national legislative director.
By Al Chesser
The objective of political extremists — those holding elective office and those seeking elective office — is to destroy labor unions, which are among the most patriotic and democracy-loving organizations in our nation.
When dictators take over a country, one of their first objectives is to destroy labor unions. If this no-compromise, labor-union hating group takes control of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate — as they have done in a number of state legislatures — America could cease to be a democracy.
This group of extremists not only is targeting collective bargaining rights; it is intent upon destroying Railroad Retirement, Social Security and Medicare, threatening the financial security of current and future retirees.
If these political extremists are able to destroy organized labor, they will destroy the many achievements of the labor movement, and the principles we have worked and sacrificed so hard for on behalf of working families.
Overtime pay, paid vacations, employer-provided health care, retirement benefits and workplace safety laws and regulations all exist because of labor unions — and all are coming under attack by political extremists.
I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute $500 to the UTU’s Collective Bargaining Defense Fund to help fight this war against organized labor and working families.
I say to every labor union officer and union member: Don’t get caught asleep at the switch. Don’t let these political extremists fast talk you. If they destroy organized labor, our financial security will be a shambles. Our earnings, benefits and workplace safety will no longer be collectively bargained. We will be at the mercy of employers.
To my railroad brothers and sisters, I tell you that this would set us back to the 1800s, when the lives of working men and women were nearly the equivalent of slave labor.
The threat from today’s political extremists is the most dangerous we have faced since before enactment of the Railway Labor Act and the National Labor Relations Act.
Light the fire in your belly and join our fight. We can, will and must beat back this attack from those who want to destroy the union movement in America.
I was asked if our Collective Bargaining Defense Fund, the UTU PAC and our recently inaugurated direct-contact-with-members outreach can stop the assault on labor by conservative extremists.
In union there is strength, and when members of all labor unions engage in political solidarity, the result is millions of union members and their families working toward a common goal of electing more labor-friendly lawmakers.
Consider what has been accomplished recently in Ohio and Wisconsin.
Demonstrations in Ohio resulted in hundreds of thousands of voters — union and non-union — signing petitions to force a November ballot referendum on legislation signed into law by the governor revoking public-employee collective bargaining rights. The referendum will allow voters to determine in November whether the law should be invalidated.
In Wisconsin, demonstrations resulted in drives to recall anti-labor senators who voted to revoke public-employee collective bargaining rights in that state. This summer, a special election will give Wisconsin voters opportunity to change the make-up of the Senate.
UTU members and retirees in Ohio and Wisconsin have been receiving direct mail pieces and/or a recorded phone message from me and their state legislative director informing them of what they can do to make a difference in their state. Other AFL-CIO unions are engaged in similar efforts.
Our objective is to keep our members and their families fully informed on political issues so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box. We also are engaged in voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
Ohio members are being informed where they can sign petitions to put that state’s union-busting legislation to a direct-democracy test at the ballot box.
Wisconsin members and retirees are being advised which senators voted with labor and which senators voted to revoke collective-bargaining rights, so that when the special election is held this summer, they can make informed voting choices.
Similar efforts will be expanded to other states in advance of the 2012 congressional and White House elections.
Coordinating the UTU effort is our political consultant, Dean Mitchell, who has more than 20 years experience directing political campaigns on behalf of labor-friendly candidates. Dean’s father was president of an American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees local.
Polling data validates that labor families vote at a higher percentage than the public as a whole, meaning our votes can make a difference when we work in solidarity on behalf of labor friendly measures and candidates.
Keeping our members and their families informed on political issues — through direct mail, recorded phone messages, the UTU News and the UTU website — will continue.
We have drawn a line in the sand from which we cannot retreat. We can and will make a difference. We will not go away. We will not forget.
MADISON, Wisc. — Are labor rallies in support of collective bargaining rights effective? Can the UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund make a difference?
Do trains run on tracks? Do buses operate on highways?
As for Wisconsin, the proof of the value of labor rallies was reflected in balloting for state supreme court justice, as a previously almost unknown state Democrat, JoAnne Kloppenburg, almost upset a presumed shoo-in April 5 — incumbent conservative Republican David Prosser, who had been “expected to coast to a victory for a second 10-year term,” according to the Madison Capital Times newspaper.
Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters, vocally outraged at the state’s Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature for their vicious attacks on public-employee collective bargaining, flocked to the polls in record numbers in support of the underdog Kloppenburg.
The balloting was widely viewed as more of a referendum on the anti-union attacks of the state’s Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature than a vote for supreme court justice.
Said the Capital Times: “It is rare to unseat a sitting supreme court justice [and the close vote that followed] would almost certainly never have happened had Democrats, unions and other liberal groups not channeled anger against Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature into support for Kloppenburg.”
Prosser was viewed as a supporter of Walker and his anti-union agenda. The New York Times quoted Prosser as having said he was proud of his membership among the state supreme court’s “common sense 4-3 conservative majority.”
The Wisconsin law revoking public-employee collective bargaining rights is on hold pending a judicial challenge that is expected to reach the state supreme court. Had Kloppenburg prevailed, the state supreme-court’s seven-member majority will shift from conservatives to liberals.
Although neither candidate has expressed an opinion on the controversial collective bargaining law and how it was enacted — by the Republican majority after Democrats boycotted the legislature — it is widely recognized that the vote was, in large part, a referendum on the anti-union politics of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the right-wing led extremist legislature.
Labor union members from across Wisconsin have rallied in opposition to Gov. Walker’s and the legislature’s anti-union attacks. The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund is helping to supply UTU rally participants with signs and T-shirts with slogans — and other materials are on order for continued rallies nationwide that help to attract and focus public opposition to attacks on collective bargaining rights and labor unions.
Hundreds of labor-union members — including dozens of UTU members — were on hand at polling places in Wisconsin to collect thousands of signatures from voters on petitions to recall eight Republican lawmakers who voted to revoke public-employee collective bargaining rights.
Many of the lines to sign the petitions were said to have been as long as the lines to vote, in what was described by the media as an unusually large voter turnout.
UTU members interested in joining a rally in support of collective-bargaining rights should contact their state legislative director.
Throughout America Monday, UTU members joined with brothers and sisters across craft and industrial lines in We Are One rallies reinforcing labor solidarity and raising public awareness of mean-spirited attacks on collective bargaining rights by right-wing extremists.
The word went forth that labor will not stand passive as anti-union zealots elected to state legislatures seek to dismantle public-employee unions through laws revoking collective bargaining rights, curtailing dues check-off and forcing costly annual representation elections.
There is an end-game: Reminding elected officials that organized labor remains a potent political force able to mobilize millions of voters, and to set the stage for recall elections of anti-union lawmakers and voter referendums to nullify the legislative assault on collective bargaining rights.
“The immense activity this week is a direct result of the backlash provoked by overreaching governors and legislators,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka.
Labor leaders nationwide recognize that the assault on public-employee collective bargaining rights is part of a right-wing effort to extend the anti-union assault to private sector unions. Anti-union extremists already have urged an assault on Railroad Retirement Tier II and the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).
The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund, established to help support public awareness of anti-union actions by right-wing extremists is just one example of union solidarity, being duplicated by dozens of other labor organizations in the public and private sectors.
Thousands of dollars already have been contributed to the UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund for this purpose, and UTU members and retirees are urged to add to the contributions already received from locals, general committees and state legislative boards.
In Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill curtailing public-employee collective bargaining rights, the effort to nullify that law in a November voter referendum already has begun.
Over the next 90 days, union members and their supporters in Ohio will collect the necessary 231,000 signatures to put the Ohio legislation to a voter referendum in November.
Efforts also have begun in Wisconsin to recall legislators who voted in favor of curtailing public-employee collective bargaining rights in that state.
“If you believe in something strong enough, you fight for it,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey in urging donations to the UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund. “Together, in solidarity, we can and will win this fight and emerge stronger than ever.”
Checks to the UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund should be sent to:
UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund United Transportation Union Suite 340 24950 Country Club Blvd. North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s official. The Ohio House and Senate have passed anti-union legislation that limits public-employee collective bargaining.
Gov. John Kasich intends to sign the bill into law.
The legislation bars strikes by public employees and limits collective bargaining to wages — but only if the public body chooses to bargain collectively. Otherwise, wages — as well as health care benefits, pensions and outsourcing — will be set unilaterally by public bodies.
The bill also limits payroll deduction for union political action committees and eliminates the use of seniority in determining layoffs.
In the works is a voter referendum for the fall that would overturn the legislation. The UTU, through the newly created UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund, will help in that effort.
A labor-law professor at Ohio State University told The New York Times, “The essence of collective bargaining is when you can’t agree on terms of a contract, you have a dispute resolution mechanism, by strikes or perhaps binding arbitration. Here, you have none of that. That’s not collective bargaining. I’d call it collective begging. It’s a conversation that ends whenever an employer decides that it ends.”
Said the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: “[The legislation] undermines our basic American values by attacking the right of Ohio workers to have a voice on the job.””
In Wisconsin, similar legislation was passed without Democrats voting; and is now being challenged in state courts.
Other states, where right-wing extremists control the legislature — as in Ohio and Wisconsin — are also considering Ohio- and Wisconsin-like anti-union legislation.
The attack on public-employee collective bargaining rights by right-wing extremists is intended to destroy labor unions.
Union busting is something expected in the private sector; that’s why we have laws to level the playing field, with most differences settled at the bargaining table or in neutral arbitration — not through management dictatorship, as being attempted in Wisconsin and other states.
Should right-wing extremists succeed in destroying public-sector unions, the assault will spread to the federal government workforce and then the private-sector.
In my 45 years as a proud union member and officer, I have never witnessed such blatant attacks on working families.
The source of the attacks is corporations, financial institutions and wealthy investors bankrolling right-wing extremist lawmakers. A Supreme Court decision virtually removing caps on corporate political donations certainly helped the effort.
Many right-wing candidates use emotional words such as gun control, school prayer and abortion to stir the emotions of union members, recruiting many to inadvertently participate in destroying the right of collective bargaining and, eventually, the economic security unions provide working families.
If labor-union survival and the economic survival of all working families is going to be preserved, we in organized labor must respond to the attacks on our collective bargaining rights.
We must maintain our right to join a union, our right to unify and our right to make political donations (if we so choose) through payroll deduction to those politicians supporting workplace democracy.
We cannot match the level of donations of the huge corporations and others financially backing the attacks on labor, but we have something our enemies don’t have — millions and millions of members who can vote for labor-friendly candidates.
The UTU Political Action Committee (UTU PAC) helps identify labor-friendly candidates, helps finance their election campaigns, and helps to get out the vote for labor-friendly candidates on Election Day.
Please consider joining this voluntary effort and contribute to the UTU PAC. If you already are a member, please consider increasing your contribution. Our job security and the economic security of our families hang in the balance.
Let’s not forget that the attacks on labor we are witnessing today have not been seen in generations, and what is happening in Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere is only the beginning if we don’t stand in solidarity to protect the rights labor fought so long, so hard and at such a great cost to achieve.