Congress and the road ahead

September 21, 2011

By James Stem
UTU National Legislative Director

Congress is back from its August recess and eyes are focused on the “Super Committee” of House and Senate members charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years.

Should that committee fail to agree — and that is likely — there is an automatic triggering mechanism to cut $1.5 trillion split evenly between defense and discretionary spending.  
We will be working to see that Amtrak, transit, essential air service, the National Labor Relations Board and the National Mediation Board are adequately funded. Our fear is all these vital entities will take some financial hit, but we will do our best to preserve funding by visiting, speaking with and educating lawmakers.

We also will continue pursuing hours-of-service technical corrections and improvements to the Family and Medical Leave Act for operating rail employees.

We thought 2011 was an “off year” concerning elections. How wrong that was. 

The assault on state workers’ rights brought legislative recalls in Wisconsin, and a big legislative referral is on tap in November in Ohio. The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund and the UTU PAC are at work protecting basic rights of collective bargaining.

In August, there were recall elections of nine Wisconsin state senators — three Democrats and six Republicans — with all three Democrats easily re-elected and two of the anti-labor Republicans defeated.

The Wisconsin state senate, while still under control by Republican supporters of Gov. Scott Walker, has had the Republican majority reduced to a single seat. One of those Republicans is a moderate whom we hope will help bring reason to that chamber.  

The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund played a meaningful part in the Wisconsin elections. Wisconsin State Legislative Director Tim Deneen worked with our political consultant, Dean Mitchell, and our Washington office to ensure our members were registered to vote and were informed about the candidates’ positions. 

While we were heavily outspent by far-right anti-labor national groups, it was the votes actually cast that mattered. In the end, we showed that labor will not sit back and accept this assault on collective bargaining rights. We are very proud of the 98 percent of our active and retired members who were registered to vote in Wisconsin.

Now, it’s on to Ohio, where we intend to have 98 percent of our active and retired members and their families registered to vote.

Recall that the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 5 that repealed collective bargaining rights for public employees, and Gov. John Kasich signed it into law.  Fortunately, Ohio has a referral process, and that legislation is on hold and will be voted on in November.

The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund will be working hard in Ohio to defeat this measure. Ohio State Legislative Director Glenn Newsom has been coordinating with Dean Mitchell to urge UTU members and their families to register to vote. They will be doing informational mailings about the significance of the vote. 

While we can’t raise the money anti-labor extremists can for these efforts, we can work to encourage UTU members and their families to register to vote, ensure they are informed on the issues, and that they cast ballots.

In the end, it’s not the amount of money that is spent. It’s the votes cast.

If you or a family member is not registered to vote in Ohio, please do so today.  If you need assistance, call the National Legislative Office at (202) 543-7714 for assistance.