Opinion: Congress, stand for workers

James Hoffa
The Capitol is seen in Washington. Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.

Starting this week, there will be a new sheriff in Washington taking charge of the House of Representatives. And the Teamsters are confident that she will get things done for the benefit of U.S. workers.

Soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pledging to have the backs of hardworking Americans. Last summer, she told hundreds of union members gathered at town hall at the Teamsters Health and Welfare building in downtown Detroit she would prioritize the passage of pension reform legislation that protects the nest eggs of workers and retirees alike. Now it’s time move on this top issue.

To that end, the Teamsters are calling on Congress to quickly pass legislation that would provide a lifeline for faltering multiemployer pensions like the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Plan. As it stands, there are more than 300 multiemployer plans across the country in danger of failing. The issue has real implications here in Michigan, where some 43,000 residents could be devastated by pension failures.

Over the past several years, thousands of Teamsters have come to Capitol Hill to tell their elected officials about the struggles they and their families will face if proposed pension cuts become a reality. For some facing health issues, it is questionable whether they will be able to afford the procedures or medicine that they need. Others worry about whether they will lose their homes.

Workers and retirees are rightfully concerned about their future. Many worked for decades and contributed to their pensions under the understanding they would be supported in their golden years. That is now being called into question, and it’s not right. Given the bipartisan support this issue received in the last Congress, this union is optimistic that a comprehensive solution can be hammered out quickly that will secure the retirements of some 1.5 million Americans at risk. Lawmakers must stand up for these workers who have done nothing wrong and played by the rules all their lives.

Of course, there are other concerns that must be addressed as well. For far too long, elected officials have ignored the infrastructure needs of this country. As a result, roads, mass transit systems and other essential parts of the transportation network have fallen into disrepair. While discussions have gone on about making such improvements a priority, the time for talk is over. A substantial public investment of dollars is necessary.

Infrastructure jobs, unlike those in other sectors, can’t be outsourced. They improve the lives of all Americans, including the men and women who help to repair and maintain the country’s transportation networks, along with those who earn a living hauling goods and the vast majority of Americans who ride the roads and rails every day.

U.S. roads, bridges, ports, airports, railroads and mass transit systems are crumbling. They endanger the well-being of people in this country, including hundreds of thousands of Teamsters, be it as truckers, railroad workers, bus drivers, building tradesmen and others. A fix is badly needed.

Taken together, there is plenty for this new Congress to do. Lawmakers must join together across the political aisle to pass legislation that helps working people. That’s what they were charged to do in November. Anything less is just more the same.

James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.