Opinion: Amid COVID-19, election preparedness is essential work
These continue to be trying times for our nation. The coronavirus still holds America in its grip, and it is unclear when that will improve. The health and economic security of workers, including more than one million essential Teamsters working on the front lines, remain at risk.
This union and others have stood strong and made their voices heard in Congress, advocating for the well-being of hardworking people during the past four months. But we must also again begin to look ahead toward November, when a consequential election will decide the future path of this country.
The Teamsters kick-started those efforts last week when it brought together some 150 political coordinators from locals across the U.S. virtually to hear how they can drive turnout for worker-friendly candidates at all levels of government during the COVID-19 crisis.
They heard from friends such as Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, a strong supporter of pension reform that protects the retirement of workers and retirees, who reminded members that they have time and again proven they can formulate change. It is time to do so again, she said.
“We have been in choppy waters because of the pandemic, but also before the pandemic,” she told them. “Teamsters always rise. You rise when you are steady, and for sure you rise when times are tough.”
Such support and motivation is always welcome. But it will take more than words to make sure this nation elects pro-worker lawmakers up and down the ballot. Teamsters and their allies will require methods old and new to get it done.
Leaning on lessons the union learned during primary elections held in the last two months — including empowering shop stewards on the job to post fliers and talk to fellow workers; increasing phone banking and texting efforts; and using social media to reach out to the membership — the Teamsters are confident they can educate and get workers to vote.
But in the age of the coronavirus, voting doesn’t look the same. That’s why we’re encouraging members to take advantage of more flexible absentee voting and vote-by-mail provisions to make sure they get their ballots in and counted. That allows them to vote from the safety of their homes when they are able to do so.
The coronavirus has put a focus on workplace safety issues like we haven’t seen before. Undoubtedly, that will remain a priority as we near Election Day. But many topics of concern remain.
One that continues to be of primary focus to this union is pensions. Some 1.5 million workers and retirees belong to multi-employer pension plans that are currently endangered. These retirees and families should not have to live with this uncertainty and continue to have their lives turned upside down.
Another is collective bargaining. Unions today are enjoying stronger support than they have in almost 50 years. There is an understanding by a sizable majority in this country that hardworking Americans deserve the ability to organize and collectively bargain for better pay, working conditions and benefits.
This nation is a little more than four months away from deciding the fate of workers for at least a generation. The Teamsters are going to do their best to ensure that hardworking Americans come out on top when all is said and done.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.