HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Transportation Division President John Previsich looked to the recent past to point the way to the future on Monday, Aug. 6, at a critical point in United States labor history.
In opening remarks to the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ first combined educational meeting at the Hilton Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida, Previsich reflected on the status of the coordinated bargaining unit’s national rail agreement talks that appeared to be at a standstill last summer and an appearance at the Sheet Metal Business Agents Conference in Vancouver last year that he said might have changed the tide.
At the time, a declaration of an impasse was likely at the next meeting between the rail labor unions and the carriers and a Presidential Emergency Board would convene, Previsich said.
But the potential impasse was broken at the next meeting with the carriers willing to negotiate, and Previsich has an inkling of what played a big part: unity.
“I told the Sheet Metal brothers and sisters in the room that when the time came, and that we had to look at a Presidential Emergency Board, I said I didn’t want 65,000 Transportation Division members calling the White House, I wanted 200,000 SMART members calling the White House,” Previsich said. “Every brother and sister stood up and pledged their support. I would like to think that support, that word, that message, got – maybe to the White House. It got somewhere good, because at the very next session immediately after that meeting in Vancouver, the railroads came into the room and started negotiating.”
Within a month, a contract offer was on the table that was ratified Dec. 1, 2017, by four out of five TD members, Previsich said.
“It was the support of everyone in that room that made that happen,” he said.
Establishing that unity not only within SMART but among all labor organizations nationwide and education efforts will be key in the aftermath of the attack on labor in the form of this summer’s Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Previsich said.
“There are forces out there that want to reset the entire playing field. They want to move the goalposts to a place that we can’t get to. They started with Janus,” he said.
The Janus decision nullifies the ability of public-sector unions to collect what are known as maintenance fees from “free-riders” — those people who take advantage of union membership benefits but do not pay for those benefits.
“It’s not going to be fatal to our organization, but it will be close to fatal to other organizations,” Previsich said.
Teachers unions, the SEIU and unions that protect government employees will be most affected, but that doesn’t mean that those anti-union forces will stop at just that single victory to crush labor in the U.S., he said.
“The next step is to private employers and there are already efforts to start that happening,” Previsich said. “They create a dispute here, a dispute there, get some conflicting court decisions and boom, it bubbles up to the Supreme Court.”
With a second Supreme Court vacancy to be filled by the Trump administration, 150 years of labor history that workers fought and died for is under attack and in jeopardy in the United States, Previsich said.
Union members need to act.
“We can no longer sit back and let somebody else take care of our business. We have to take care of it,” Previsich said. “We have to stand united, not only within, but with every other labor organization in the country. We need to talk to our friends, our relatives, our neighbors and everybody we encounter in the grocery store and let them know the labor movement is an honorable movement.
“It’s the foundation of America, and if they start beating back the unions, they’re going to beat back every employee in any form whether they’re unionized or not … we can’t let it happen.”
The key to stopping the attack will be individual action and spreading the word, member-to-member, about the importance of the November mid-term elections, Previsich said.
“This is really the cliff-side point in labor history. I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is that we get out there and motivate our members to get out there to preserve the labor movement,” he said. “We can’t forget our paychecks. We can’t forget our pensions, our benefits and our families.
“We need to make sure our members are educated on everything that is important to the cause, the movement, the preservation of the labor lifestyle that comes about as the result of unions and the hard work that they’ve been doing for 150 years.”
Earlier in the opening session, SMART General President Joseph Sellers Jr. and General Secretary-Treasurer Rich McClees also encouraged the further development of solidarity by increasing cooperation between the Sheet Metal and Transportation Division membership.
The Hollywood, Fla., combined educational meeting itself marks the first time since the Sheet Metal and Transportation Division’s merger that both a TD regional meeting and a Sheet Metal business agents conference have taken place at the same location.