BIG CHALLENGES NATIONALLY; EVEN BIGGER ONES LOCALLY
By Tom Dalzell, Business Manager
On the national front, the news for Local 1245 members and American workers is often depressing. The elite of the Republican Party, often fighting under the false flag of the tea party, barely miss a day without pressing their all-out attack on unions and workers with a ferocity that we haven’t seen since the late 1940s. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage today is lower than it was in 1968 — yet the tea party pushes for a reduction. The gap between rich and poor is worse in the United States than it is in many third world countries, and the worst that it has been here since 1929,yet the tea party pushes for greater tax breaks for the super-wealthy. And so on.
As demanding as national issues may be, our job is right here at home. Contracts covering more than 60% of our members are being negotiated this fall, with outside line construction, NV Energy, and SMUD all terming out next year. PG&E continues to struggle with daunting operational challenges in all aspects of its business, and three of its top five officers are new on the job. On the local level at NV Energy, we are slowly seeing some improvements in our relationship, yet our fight to restore retiree benefits unilaterally cut by the company two years ago continues.
On all fronts, our members are responding to the challenges facing them. Our network of young activists is growing. Intensive two-day training on grievance handling is about to start for our hundreds of PG&E shop stewards. New safety shop stewards met in Vacaville late last month for training as the next step in our Hold the Pull lineman-to-lineman safety campaign. Our gas members have stepped up with their own peer-to-peer excellence program, Control the Pressure, and we will be seeing a roll-out of their program in early October.
Every day our stewards are on the job, fighting to defend the gains we have made through our contracts. They are vigilant and professional, a real source of pride for the union. They do what they do without financial reward, acting out of a belief that working together we can accomplish much more than we could ever accomplish working alone.
And every day our negotiating committees are at work to defend and improve the working lives of our members. Like it is with most jobs, the actual time at the negotiating table is a small part of the effort required. After soliciting proposals from members, the committee must develop a cohesive proposal to present and build solid arguments in support of each proposal. Between bargaining sessions, they must analyze the employer proposals, look for win-win solutions, and eventually triage and prioritize issues. Once agreement is reached at the table, the work has just begun — the committee must then make sure that the members it represents fully understand the tentative agreement and vote on the agreement in an educated fashion.
This fall I expect that 90% of my time will be devoted to the negotiations that I am leading at PG&E, Modesto Irrigation District, and Turlock Irrigation District. There is no part of union work that I like better than negotiating. Negotiations affect all members, and the stakes have never been higher. The fact that our members who volunteer for work on the negotiating committee are so bright, experienced, creative, and devoted to their fellow members makes negotiating a pleasure and an honor.
There was a bumper sticker that expressed popular wisdom years ago — think globally, act locally. We of course have to pay attention to what is happening nationally, and to the extent possible we should weigh in on national and global issues. But we can’t forget that our biggest fights and our biggest impact are locally. Contract negotiations, grievances, and safety — these are why we are here. We will do our job as best we can, and with what is left over we’ll fight the bigger issues.