Unions Host the Lamborghini of Legislative ConferencesBy Kim Phelan
Article Date: 06-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
The Administration is right where Labor wants it – in their corner, on their stage, and for now, in the driver’s seat.
Four days after the outstanding AED Government Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., the Building and Construction Trades division of the AFL/CIO gathered at the Washington Hilton for their legislative conference, and I was able to drop in for the opening program with a front row press pass. The slogan of the event was: The Right Jobs * The Right Future * Right Now. And they mean it.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at a major national union event, I’ll share some visuals that made an impression on me (particularly in contrast to the modest-sized, though extremely high quality, conference AED had just concluded): First, the room was positively jammed; my eyeball estimate would be about 1,500, with all attendees divided by state markers, much like a political party convention. The language used to address the union members from the stage was, indeed, “My brothers and my sisters.” Consistently. The United States Marine Band played a prelude and the national anthem, and the United States Armed Forces Color Guard conducted the presentation of colors.
A surprising invocation delivered by a Catholic priest, who is the president and CEO of the Faith and Politics Institute, included this nearly verbatim statement: “…and Lord, we know your Spirit is here, moving among us, telling us we must come together, get stronger, and demandmore jobs.” (I was ready to duck under the table, but thankfully no lightning struck that day.)
The first morning’s plenary session line-up was also intriguing – essentially one heck of a pep rally. After a speech by Mark Ayers, who is the president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the vice president of the United States, yes Joe Biden himself, delivered to his audience just over 40 minutes worth of enthusiastic gratitude, middle class back-patting, administration congratulating, and all-around ‘we’re on your side’ oratory euphoria, receiving at least half a dozen standing ovations.
Why? Because of these sorts of memorable phrases:
“You’re the heart and soul and the spine of this nation.” “There’s a war being waged on Labor’s house – a war waged by the Republican Party, by the Chamber of Commerce and all their allies, to see to it that you do not get your fair share.” “…If it had not been for the unions (late 19th and early 20th centuries) our GDP would have gone through the ceiling but the living standard of the American people would not have materially changed. They didn’t say any job was ok; you said the workers are entitled; they’re entitledto a fair share in the wealth they create.” “If you do not grow, the middle class will not grow; without growing the middle class, our ability to lead in the 21 Century is diminished. Your growth is America’s growth!”
Throughout his speech, Biden referenced the need for new industries, green building that includes windmills, nuclear power plants, solar facilities, smart grid and high speed rail. He touted one of President Obama’s first actions in office, the overturning of George Bush’s ban on federal project-labor agreements (PLAs), as well as the president’s recent coup for unions, the appointment of Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board. “For too long the [NLRB] was a rigged jury,” he said.
The last issue to which Biden alluded before taking his leave of this union audience was the “card check” movement, a well known union priority, which was curiously absent from the list of legislative issues outlined in the program book for members to take to Capitol Hill when they met with their members of Congress later that week. The Employee Free Choice Act, in case you’ve forgotten, aims to eliminate secret ballot in union organizing and advocates binding arbitration in initial union contracts. What Mr. Biden had to say on the subject of this temporarily shelved legislation is this: “We have an unfinished commitment to you. We want to make sure that you should be able to sign up for a union just like you sign up to vote.”
I haven’t editorialized much here, but I think you can reasonably infer why these particular details from this event were selected for print. For all of the above reasons, I implore you to become as politically active as possible – your business and your industry, not to mention your country, surely depend on it.
Thanks for reading.
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