Sisters and brothers-
Labor Day is now 125 years old and was provided to Americans by the federal government as a national holiday after significant strike activity from workers forced to toil over 12 hours per day, six days per week in coal mines, factories, and mills. In an attempt to repair ties with American workers who were angry with the economic and political system, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a holiday and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.
After 125 years we must reflect on the state of American labor and those things we are thankful for, as well as, those things we must be vigilant with. Now is a time of great renewal for American workers, but also a time of major threats.
Teamsters are thankful how unlike our neighbors in Iowa, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin; we here in Minnesota have excellent union rights and protections. Wages, benefits, discipline and discharge, and other terms and conditions of employment must be negotiated between the union and the employer. The one benefit we do not negotiate over is pension plans. In Minnesota, as in most states, public employee pension plans are legislated and not subject to union negotiations. The good news is that through the activity of unions lobbying at the State Legislature we were able to protect our pension plans for a 30-year amortization period wherein such time the pensions are projected to reach complete solvency.
We are also grateful that during the last several years we have not conceded to any employer demands which harm our members. Certainly, we have adverse employers and have dealt with bad supervisors who harass and intimidate workers. We will continue to confront those bad actors until they cease or are dismissed. Yet, once we do sit down and hammer out a union contract with an employer, those contracts consistently pass with resounding support.
The problems which persist for our Union and other unions are the constant attacks from anti-union groups and employer-interests. These attacks turn Teamster against Teamster. These groups encourage free riders amongst union members. They want to tear down our internal solidarity. Some Teamsters unwittingly fall into their traps and sow the seeds of discontent. Some attack our Union at the workplace and on social media. Some like to call it a “business decision” to resign from our Union. But a union is not a business. A union is a family of workers who share similar interests, similar desires, and those who still believe in the American dream.
Another threat we have been made aware of is the possibility of an economic recession in the near future which could harm our services and our jobs. If you work for a city, county, school district, joint powers, or state institution, your job and the service you deliver depends on tax revenue. One can surely argue how much and where from and over how well those taxes are collected and spent. Nonetheless, during economic recessions tax revenue takes a nose dive and this creates hardship for Teamsters.
There are several Teamsters who remember the 2009-2011 economic recession and how wages were frozen and benefit costs rose. Some Teamsters lost their jobs due to state and local budget cuts. If a recession comes at us once again we have to be ready to elect those candidates for state and local office who are committed to protecting jobs, wages, and benefits of Teamsters. We have a clear history of how bad things got during the last recession, and what we can do together to face down those threats today.
In closing, I simply wish the members and families of Teamsters Local 320 a wonderful holiday weekend and Labor Day. Please do not forget those Teamsters and heroes who are working in public safety or are deployed overseas in service to our cities, counties, states, and country. Never forget how and why Labor Day was created and who we must honor on this holiday—American workers and our unions!