Politics and policy were front and center during the first day of the 29th International Convention on Monday as thousands of Teamsters lauded the union’s support for a platform that calls for more infrastructure investment and election contributions by members while calling out lawmakers who would ship jobs overseas or hamper collective bargaining.
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa told attendees the last five years have been a time of success for the union. But there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We have to make new pledges, new promises,” he said. “We need to organize, but there are new journeys to be won. Let’s pledge to say we will get out to vote and win!”
Union members rose to their feet during a rousing discussion about the damage trade deals, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, could bring to everyday Americans. As part of a resolution approved by members, members agreed that “It is a moral and economic imperative that this country drastically reform its trade policies to ensure that working families’ wages and benefits are not further eroded, that jobs are not continually sent offshore, that the right to organize and to bargain collectively be in any agreement, and that workers are free from exploitation.”
Kevin Moore, an International Trustee and President of Local 299, said Teamsters won’t just sit back and allow Congress to approve the TPP.
“Teamsters are for fair trade, not free trade. Trade that helps working men and women. When the U.S. negotiates trade, it must put workers first,” Moore said. “Are you ready to fight? Then get out of your chairs and let them hear it. We’re not going to take this shit anymore. No TPP!”
Central Region International Vice President, Teamsters Joint Council 25 Trustee and Teamsters Local 700 President Becky Strzechowski championed public employee unity within the Teamsters Union during a midday address. She specifically referenced the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association ruling by the Supreme Court in March to rally members to stand together for stronger union rights and protections. The ruling preserved unions’ rights to collect agency fees from non-union public sector workers to cover the cost of collective bargaining and administration.
Support was also strong on Monday for the union’s Let’s Get America Working platform, which was presented by Local 769 President Mike Scott. The union unveiled a broad agenda last September that called for more spending to fix roads, rail, mass transit, energy networks and water systems. Such spending would create good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.
And members also got fired up during discussion of so-called right to work, which penalizes workers by hindering their ability to negotiate fair contracts. Lawmakers were successful in approving right to work in West Virginia this year, but pro-worker forces continue to hold off a similar result in Missouri. General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall said workers have the power to stop it.
“We can change peoples’ minds. We have to keep fighting and telling people the truth,” Hall said. “This upcoming election is the absolute referendum for us. Come November, we will remember.”
Local 700 Business Agent and Trustee Anthony McGee also addressed the Convention as a delegate from the floor in support of a resolution concerning all public employees. The resolution stated that all Teamsters will continue to build power in the public sector through traditional organizing and affiliations with independent associations and other unions. It further read that all Teamster locals shall implement plans to engage in ongoing internal organizing aimed at converting all fair-share payers to full membership.
When General President Hoffa asked if anyone else wanted to be heard, McGee stepped up to the microphone. “Mr. President, I am a proud delegate from Teamsters Local 700 where we are led by Becky Strzechowski,” said McGee. “We at Local 700 are proud to represent more than 10,000 public sector employees who work hard everyday to protect us and give us the services needed to provide a good environment for our families and the citizens that we serve. I firmly support this resolution and encourage the entire delegation to support this resolution.”
Near the end of the day’s proceedings, Convention attendees heard about the importance of the 2016 elections as well as the need to elect Teamsters to public office. And members approved a resolution backing increased participation in the union’s DRIVE program, which funds the union’s contributions to candidates for office.
Teamsters Local 700 is an affiliate of Joint Council 25, America’s premier labor union for Chicago, Illinois and northwest Indiana.