Our Issues

TRADE

No issue threatens U.S. manufacturing and manufacturing jobs more than bad trade.

The predictable faults in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led to the loss of more than 1 million U.S. jobs and the closure of thousands of U.S. factories as corporations moved production to low-wage, high-pollution Mexico, hurting workers on both sides of the border.

Welcoming China into the free-market-based World Trade Organization without adequate safeguards also cost U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Chinese government-subsidized products, from steel to tires, flooded the world market at below-production-cost prices, bankrupting domestic corporations that do not receive free land, “loans” that don’t have to be repaid, and underpriced raw materials.

Also, the Chinese government manipulated the value of its currency so that its exports were artificially cheap and imports into China were artificially expensive.

There have been stopgap fixes, many of which came about because the USW fought for them, but the trade system remains fundamentally broken, with the playing field tilted against U.S. workers and employers. Elected officials must offer specific, achievable plans to preserve American manufacturing, not just for the sake of jobs, but also for national defense.

HEALTH CARE

The cost of health insurance is a burden for American families, even with the cost-containment successes of the Affordable Care Act. This is true for workers who are members of labor unions and those who are not.

Corporations with workers not protected by labor agreements constantly foist rising health insurance costs on employees. In collective bargaining, union members far too often must relinquish raises to sustain decent health insurance. And now, the federal government is threatening to tax the high-quality health insurance plans that labor unions often succeeded in negotiating for members.

Many proposals to reduce costs and extend coverage have been put forward, including a single-payer plan like Medicare for All. While there are pros and cons to each of these, it is essential for the United States to implement real solutions to contain health insurance costs and move toward coverage for all Americans.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, creating a clear legal pathway for workers to join together to form labor unions and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions, corporatists have schemed to undermine this instrument of worker power.

Over the decades, millionaire CEOs and their well-heeled lobbyists have gotten lawmakers to pass anti-union laws on the federal and state levels in an attempt to break down and bankrupt unions.

Because of this sustained assault, participation in labor unions has declined from about 30 percent of workers in the 1960s to 10.5 percent today. Worker clout waned, and as a result, wages for all workers stagnated and health care costs rose.

To return to the days in which America enjoyed a vibrant middle class, workers must take back the power of collective bargaining. This can occur only if lawmakers reinstate the rights that FDR envisioned for all working people. That is why it is so important for workers to know whether candidates support the right to organize.

DOMESTIC ISSUES

A modern infrastructure means jobs. It works in several ways. Good infrastructure – including up-to-date airports, reliable roads and bridges, a strong network of railroads and subways, trustworthy locks and dams and 21st-century water and sewer systems – requires construction and maintenance. This provides jobs for all sorts of workers.

In addition, when American infrastructure is built and maintained right, that is, with American-made materials, it supports domestic manufacturing and those people who make the pipe fittings, concrete, rebar and other construction materials needed in these projects.

Good infrastructure also means the United States can have more efficient mills and shops, which is good for the environment. Manufacturing requires public water, dependable electrical service, and functional transportation systems to receive raw materials and convey finished products to market. Making necessary upgrades and ensuring this system is modern means that the process is cleaner and wastes fewer natural resources.

Workers have a serious stake in strong infrastructure, which, for the most part, is planned, paid for and preserved with tax dollars.

Candidates must understand that American workers have the right to build their own infrastructure – and other American goods – while earning family-supporting wages in workplaces that respect environmental regulations.

SAFETY & HEALTH

A basic tenet for Americans is that they owe employers hard work and concentration, but not life or limb.

To protect workers, lawmakers, unions and other stakeholders have worked for decades to institute health and safety protections for workers on the job, and, more recently, some protections against workplace violence.

The governmental institutions that protect worker health and safety include the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Yet recently, there has been a push to dramatically defund or dismantle these protections. There have also been proposals to entirely eliminate others, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Such moves not only threaten workers but also community safety, because when some inherently hazardous industrial processes operate without oversight, corporations are inclined to cut corners to increase profits. That can result in explosions and toxic chemical leaks that kill workers and neighboring residents.

Instead of planning to roll back workplace protections, candidates must have a plan to hold employers accountable for keeping workers and their communities healthy and safe.

RETIREMENT SECURITY

The American Social Security and Medicare systems are beloved by workers because they are an expression of the belief that all workers have value and deserve a dignified retirement after decades on the job.

In recent years, however, some politicians have tried to cut Social Security and Medicare in order to pay for tax breaks for the rich. Other lawmakers, however, believe the opposite should occur – that these programs should be expanded.

In addition, while some politicians have turned their backs on workers, including 260,000 active and retired USW members in multiemployer pension plans, other lawmakers contend that the nation has an obligation to at least provide loans to help stabilize troubled multiemployer plans.

In a nation that truly acts on its respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people, no one’s rights should be abridged on account of race, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. And no one’s right to vote should be threatened. On the contrary, candidates must prioritize fairness and equality for everyone, from workers who are looking for their first jobs to retirees.