By Joseph Sellers Jr.,
SMART?General Secretary-Treasurer –
With the midterm elections over, we now have an impression of what the next two years will look like for legislation affecting working families in the United States.
Overall, anti-worker politicians will now control the legislative agenda in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as in a majority of state houses. The Wall Street CEOs, hedge fund managers and billionaire one-percenters who financed those anti-worker candidates will be expecting a return on their investment.
Based upon comments made on the campaign trail, we have an idea of what will come out of the GOP-dominated Congress in the final two years of the Obama Presidency – at least in how it relates to working family issues.
The newest head of the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor is expected to be Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). He donated much of his time and energy to stop a United Auto Workers organizing campaign in Chattanooga, Tenn. Expect attempts through his committee to impede new union election procedures that make it easier for workers to organize, along with new rules targeting pensions, retirement security, health care and worker safety.
Two years ago, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced a budget proposal that included a provision seeking to dismantle the Railroad Retirement system that has successfully existed for almost a century by placing it on the same tier as Social Security. Ryan also claimed that cutting Railroad Retirement would bring “an estimated savings to taxpayers of $2 billion over 10 years.” Not only is this not true, but it reveals a complete misunderstanding of the Railroad Retirement system that relies on contributions from employees and employers and not American taxpayers.
In terms of H.R. 3040, which would require two-person train crews on America’s railroads, we do not expect much movement now with these election results. However, we will continue to move forward as one union in support of this important legislation. Only a handful of this bill’s co-sponsors are in the GOP majority. Every part of our union will continue to advocate for this bill aggressively to show lawmakers the importance of this legislation as it relates to the safety of local communities and workers.
Make no mistake; the last few years have been difficult for all of us. The economy has been improving, but very little of it has trickled down to the average American. It is my fervent hope that both parties spend more time focusing on measures to expand jobs opportunities and enhance living wages for working families.
We need to stick together and hold politicians accountable by continuing to reinforce the importance of working family issues. These include retirement security for our golden years, an affordable and quality education for our children and fair treatment at work.
The only way to make politicians accountable is by making sure your voice is heard. Only an average of 40 percent of American voters participate in midterm elections. In this election, that number was even smaller, with only 36 percent having voted.
All it takes for bad politicians to be elected is for good people to become complacent about voting. Stay active in your local union. Sign up for action alerts at smart-union.org. Make sure you are registered to vote in your local community and stay informed on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to you, your family and your co-workers.
Even in the wake of what was a devastating election, workers sticking together can make a difference. In my home state of Pennsylvania, for example, SMART Sheet Metal and Transportation members worked to defeat a steadfast anti-worker incumbent governor. Members from across the state knocked on doors, manned phone banks and worked hard to make sure he was held accountable for his attacks on working families. And in the end, thanks to their hard work and the hard work of working families across the state, our brothers and sisters won and he was voted out of office.
As long as we stand together as working people and union members, we can overcome anything.
Joseph Sellers Jr.