Opinion: Empowering workers now through 2020
This Labor Day, unions like the Teamsters find themselves in a strong position. The public’s support of the labor movement is as strong as it’s been in the last 16 years. There is an understanding by a sizable majority in this country that hardworking Americans deserve higher pay and greater respect on the job.
But to ensure that continues, workers need to stand up for their rights. That’s why the Teamsters Union, some 1.4 million members strong, is currently weighing all the candidates seeking the U.S. presidency in 2020 for a possible endorsement. To earn it, those seeking to become the nation’s chief executive will have to prove that they side with workers.
In an effort to get presidential contenders on the record about the topics workers care about, this union is training members and retirees who are well-versed on the issues to talk to the candidates about sticking up for working families. These Teamsters are getting ready and committed to asking important questions and getting candidates to talk about pensions, collective bargaining, infrastructure and more.
Those who attended these sessions first filled out the Teamsters’ 2020 survey to register their opinions on what are the top issues the union should be asking presidential contenders to address. Next, they shared with their training group which issue was the most important to them and why. And finally, they role-played by asking a stand-in candidate questions.
Teamsters at the trainings were told to stand in a prominent place so they get noticed by candidates and their staffs. They were also encouraged to wear Teamster gear and hold signs to make the union’s presence at meetings and rallies known.
All of this is part of the union’s effort to increase visibility around the issues members are prioritizing. And it will continue throughout the 2020 election season. Why? Because candidates seeking the endorsement of the Teamsters must understand the importance unions play in the working lives of the American worker and our economy as a whole. Supporting organizing efforts and standing for fairness and respect in the workplace is essential.
The American labor movement is responsible for many things the public and politicians take for granted — the weekend, the 40-hour work week and anti-child labor laws to name a few. Today, unions are reinvigorated and working for other profoundly important things — securing wages and benefits that working families deserve, the continued existence of the middle class, and respect and dignity for all working people.
But there are no guarantees that will continue. The U.S. needs leaders who are willing to prove they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with workers. Hardworking Americans are tired of empty promises. They want concrete action that ensures they have the freedom to join together and negotiate better wages and benefits, have access to quality health care and retirement security.
The reality is CEO pay continues to accelerate while wages for the average worker remains stagnate. Big businesses continue to pocket more profits while working people struggle to make ends meet. This is not a sustainable economic policy.
Teamsters plan on changing that, not by accepting hollow words, but by holding presidential candidates accountable. Only then will workers truly prevail.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
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.