Brothers & Sisters:
I am writing this as I return from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
A high point of my week was an invitation-only luncheon with Michelle Obama and Jill and Joe Biden on Friday, Aug. 29.
What a privilege it was to hear Michelle Obama speak first-hand of her husbands’ concern and support for working families, for making our tax code more equitable, for strengthening laws in support of organized labor, and investing in transit and Amtrak. Sen. Biden also voiced a similar message of support.
Sitting with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka, in a box above the convention floor to hear Sen. Obama deliver his historic acceptance speech, was another special event.
I also had opportunity to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, and House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota — who, incidentally, is among those mentioned as in the running to join President Obama’s cabinet as our nation’s transportation secretary.
I also had a chat with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who shares many of our concerns about CSX and its management.
For sure, I was afforded these opportunities NOT because I am International President of the UTU. It is because the UTU has one of the largest political action committees (PACs) among organized labor, and one of the most effective Washington legislative offices.
The UTU PAC has helped countless labor-friendly candidates win and hold office, and those candidates never forget the assistance from our 125,000 active and retired members whose careers are, and have been, dedicated to keeping freight trains, intercity-rail and bus-passenger operations, and local transit on time and safe.
As high an honor as it was to represent UTU members in Denver, the real benefit of our political involvement occurs every day that the House, Senate and state legislatures are in session. It is on those days that UTU PAC contributions pay their compound interest, as our political friends — those who share our dreams, our concerns and our sense of justice — go to work for us in support of laws that advance the economic interests of working families.
Speaker Pelosi knew that many of our members are not Democrats. And she understood that the UTU is bipartisan in its political dealings — that we support Republicans, as well as Democrats, so long as the candidate is labor-union friendly.
Speaker Pelosi also noted that the overwhelming majority of Democratic lawmakers vote in support of working families, and that is why it is so essential to keep the House, Senate, White House and state legislatures from being controlled by anti-labor conservatives, who would privatize and endanger Social Security and Railroad Retirement, forever block the Employee Free Choice Act, destroy Amtrak, cut transit spending, continue exporting jobs, and tilt our tax codes even more in favor of corporations and the super-wealthy.
I assured Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid and all our other friends in Congress with whom I met that what the UTU would concentrate on during this election season is to help elect Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the White House.
We will do this, I said, by concentrating our efforts in registering our members, their families, neighbors and friends to vote. And we will then devote our efforts to explaining in a positive way to our members why it is so essential they vote their paychecks on Election Day.
While working families have legitimate differences on various social issues, we all agree that goal number one is job security, as well as better wages, benefits and workplace safety. To achieve these goals, we depend on judges and regulators (nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate) who are labor friendly. A President Obama will make those appointments; a President McCain will not.
It was anti-labor conservatives who set in motion policies that eliminated labor protection in railroad short-line sales.
It is anti-labor conservatives who want to turn Social Security and Railroad Retirement over to the free-wheeling, private-sector financial whiz-bangs who brought us the Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacles.
It was anti-labor conservatives who called Federal Railroad Administration safety inspectors “meter maids,” and who oppose stiff carrier fines for serious safety violations.
It is anti-labor conservatives who are trying to eliminate the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).
It is anti-labor judges to whom the carriers run for injunctions against strikes.
And it is anti-labor lawmakers and regulators who keep in place such horrendous laws and regulations that, for example, put a commercial driver’s license at risk for minor traffic infractions in a private automobile, or who impose degrading direct-observation drug-testing procedures.
These are our paycheck issues, which can insure or destroy a secure economic future for our families — now and in retirement. A labor-friendly White House is essential to change in support of working families.
As I spoke with delegates, other labor leaders, and, especially, so many young Americans who traveled to Denver just to be part of the convention, I was reminded of John Kennedy’s thrilling line from his 1961 inaugural address — that, “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . .”
Barack Obama is about change — about change that will improve our job security, wages, benefits and workplace safety.
And this is why it is so essential that UTU members, their families, their friends and neighbors come together to help elect Barack Obama president on Tuesday, Nov. 4.