From BLET National Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman October 4th 2018 Las Vegas Nevada
Brothers and Sisters,
We are at a crossroads. I think we all know that the upcoming elections WILL affect our jobs and our lives in both the short term and the long term. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves, but if you only do one thing in that effort; please take a moment to read the remarks of an important modern day labor leader. Here is the address to the delegates at the BLET 4th National Convention just over a week ago. Our Brother, friend and BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative, John Tolman:
JOHN TOLMAN Vice President National Legislative Representative:
Good morning, Brothers and Sisters. Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to begin by saying how privileged I am to serve as your Vice President and National Legislative Representative in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. What an honor it is for me today and for the last several years to be — and today in particular, to be standing up here with National Vice President Dennis Pierce. Vice President? Well, I’m not done with my comments yet. (Laughter)
No, with my good friend and President, Dennis Pierce, National First Vice President Lee Pruitt, National Secretary-Treasurer Steve Bruno; and I would be remiss if I didn’t just recognize Cole Davis in particular and Gil Gore for their dedication, commitment, honesty, and integrity in the last several years. They may be leaving this podium, but they’re not leaving the brotherhood. They’ll always be there fighting for labor issues for the rest of their lives, and you can guarantee that.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention all my other Advisory Board members and Trustees, these union brothers and sisters who have devoted their lives to this union and our labor movement.
I’m especially proud to stand here today, because like many of you, I come from a railroad family. My dad was a General Chairman for the UTU. My brothers Jim, Steve, and David also worked in the railroad industry. Although our D.C. office focuses on politics, regulations, and legislation, I want to focus on politics today because as you know, everything we do in the BLET/Teamsters is directly tied to the federal government from FELA, Railroad Retirement, National Mediation Board, to the FRA.
I’m humbled, Brothers and Sisters, to serve you in D.C., but I have the distinct pleasure to serve with my colleagues Vince Verna, Director of Regulatory Affairs; Bob Hagan, Director of Political Legislative Affairs; and Carlos Barrett, Administrative Assistant. Brothers and Sisters, I’m going to speak very frankly today. I know there are Republicans in this room, and I know there are Trump supporters.
I’m not here to argue with you. I’m simply going to give you some of the facts that are based on decades of dealing with Congress, the White House, and various executive branches and agencies.
I know there are those of you who are loyal Democrats feel the tremendous frustration sometimes with the Democratic politicians who have disappointed us with their failure to be true champions of the working class and the labor movement.
I also understand that when someone decides whom to vote for, there are a variety of social and cultural issues that often play a role in their decision. But, Brothers and Sisters, we need to take back the country from a Congress that enables a political system that serves special interests, not for other people.
Our founders envisioned a country that would be run by the people, for the people, and not for special interests.
Having worked for you in D.C. for the past 14 years, I have seen how when we have friends in Congress, we can get things done. We can hold the railroads accountable. And with this in mind, I want to reflect with you today on the state of the labor movement during these times of discontent in America, a time when contributions of working Americans and unions that represent them are more important than ever to the vitality of democracy in society.
You know many esteemed politicians over the decades have recognized the important role, the indispensable role that unions play in our nation’s democracy.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey said, and I quote, “The story of labor movement needs to be taught in every school in this land. America is a living testimony to what men and women organized in free Democratic trade unions can do to make a better life.”
President Jimmy Carter said a decade later, “Every advance in this half century came from the support and leadership of American labor.”
And President Obama just a few years ago reminded us, and I quote, “It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today — the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, railroad retirement, Medicare, and retirement plans. The cornerstone of the middle class security all bear the union label.”
Now, before any of you think that I’m being partisan, I also want to point out that President Eisenhower wrote this to his brother in 1950.
“Today in America, unions have a secure place in our industrial life. Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and depriving working men and women of the right to join a union of their choice. I have no use for those, regardless of the political party, who hold some vain and foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when organized labor was huddled almost as a helpless mass. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.”
And long, long, before that, in 1861, President Lincoln said the following in his address to the Joint Sessions of Congress. “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior capital and deserves a much higher consideration.” Brothers and Sisters, valuing and respecting all forms of work has been a bipartisan American principle for more years than our great Brotherhood has existed. In support of the labor unions chosen by workers to represent them also was the bedrock of bipartisan American principle.
But not anymore, Brothers. My own daily work experience tells me that there are very, very few exceptions, that the Republican Party no longer is the champion for the working class. Perhaps even more disappointing to all of us is the fact that there are far, far too many Democrat politicians who have failed to be true champions of the working class.
The rules of the economy crafted on a bipartisan basis over the past 40 years are increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthy corporate interests, while organized labor has been taken for granted or simply ignored in the halls of government.
And now working families and the nation’s democracy are paying the price. There’s something wrong in America when health insurance is like carrying a second mortgage.
There’s something wrong in America when the total earned by all minimum-wage workers across this country last year was less than Wall Street big shots took home in bonuses alone.
There’s something wrong in America, Brothers, when the corporations making millions of dollars in profits are asking workers to give up benefits and protections on the job.
There’s something wrong in America, Brothers and Sisters, when a professional train crew goes to work at night and never makes it home, workers who have dedicated their lives to the job and protecting the safety of the communities they travel.
And the federal government wants to roll back rail regulations. There’s something wrong in America when the FRA allows another country to take our jobs south of the border with no hours of service, drug testing certification, or standards that U.S. crews are held to; so that a multinational KCS can make more profits while paying Mexican crews a fraction of the money U.S. crews make.
There’s something wrong in America when the same wealthy special interests that have mounted an all-out assault on union rights are now going after voting rights and public education. Now we’ve got an administration implementing a massive tax cut for the wealthy that promises a trillion dollar windfall to shareholders, and an administration that boasts about growing GDP. All the while rail wages have not risen for over 40 years and remain stagnant.
There is something wrong in America, Brothers and Sisters, when most of the massive tax cut goes to the wealthiest Americans who make more in two months than the average worker makes in a lifetime.
In the meantime, services that protected public good and essential services like public transaction, public schools, roads, bridges, are starved for resources.
We are now facing the reality with three branches of the federal government — the legislative, executive, and judicial — are promoting the interest of a wealthy few at the expense of our families and our communities.
Brothers and Sisters, now is the time. Now is the time to take a stand. The time is right now.
As bad as the state of the nation seems, with all the disturbing news, I see a lot that is right in America. This is what’s right in America. This is what’s right in America. You are what’s right in America. You are the labor leaders; the people in this room are what is right in America.
The number of workers organizing and voting and joining unions is increasing, and the Millennials are at the head of the pack. Nearly 300,000 new union members in 2017. And 75 percent of them are under the age of 35. The good people in Missouri just voted down the Right to Work on a 2- to-1 margin, as you’ve heard many times here.
This is what’s right in America, Brothers. Teachers in some of the most conservative states around this country, striking for good jobs and fully-funded public schools for every child. This is what’s right in America. Young students organizing and marching.
Young students organizing and marching for their lives and mobilizing by thousands to take to the streets. This is what’s right in America.
Women who make up half the workforce, marching and standing up and speaking out and helping redefine what it means to have power today. This is what’s right in America.
And last, but certainly not least, approval rating of the labor movement is at 62 percent, a 15- year high.
We’re on the march. We’re on the rise, Brothers and Sisters. This is what’s right in America, Brothers and Sisters. We have to have friends in Congress to get things done. When we do, we can get things done.
In 2007, we passed the first whistleblower law in the railroad industry. In 2008 we helped pass the first Rail Safety Improvement Act in 14 years. Hell, we wrote the law. We wrote the early drafts of the legislation. Now, we know it wasn’t a perfect law, but it was a big improvement over the 14 years of nothing.
This November, Brothers and Sisters, we have an opportunity to fix this and hold the railroads accountable. We are in this fight together. We need to organize. We need to mobilize. We need to participate in this midterm elections like never before, Brothers and Sisters.
We need to recreate a Congress by restoring the bipartisan American principle that supports working men and women in the labor movement, from the Locomotive Engineer to the conductor, from the hotel housekeeper to the crane operator, to the dispatcher to the carman, from the firemen to the personal attendant, from the signalman to the electrician. Working people can build a better country starting at the ballot box, and I challenge you to do this.
Wealthy special interests are consolidating their power, and they know they need to get the unions out of the way. They’re fighting us with the right-to-work so-called laws, the Janus decisions, with dozens of cases already queued up in the Supreme Court.
They’re attacking us with the executive orders, Department of Labor rules changes and behind closed doors. They want a playing field where working people have no say, whether it’s in the workplace or in the halls of Congress. And the only way they can beat us — the only way we can beat them is to fight as one.
Today is our day, Brothers and Sisters. It’s not time to complain, it’s time to unite. Unite our communities and political partners. This should be our pledge to each other in this room. Brothers and Sisters, vote for those who best represent us, our voices in the labor movement, and preserve the middle class for our children and our grandchildren.
The time is now. Let’s take back Congress. Educate your brothers and sisters, your friends and your neighbors.
And in conclusion, let us always keep in mind what JFK said in 1963: “The only answer to corporate greed is organized labor.”
Thank you very much, Brothers and Sisters.