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October 13, 2015
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Steven P. Vairma

Steve Vairma's Column:

Unionizing will work better than raising minimum wage

Raising the minimum wage is often offered as a prescription for the income gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, but it is really more like trying to cure pneumonia with a cough drop.

Workers' wages have diminished for many years, and employers know the reason why.  They laugh all the way to the bank.  Workers, though, mostly look at their pay checks and shake their heads.

While the Teamsters Union supports a much-needed legislatve proposal that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the possibility of Congress passing such an increase is virtually nonexistent.  The federal minimum is now a disgraceful $7.25 an hour, and if it is raised at all, it will probably only be a couple of dollars at most.

Regardless of the amount, paying more wages to workers on the bottom rung of the economic ladder will certainly help, but it won't do much for the so-called middle class workers who have also been victimized by stagnant wages for the past 20 years.

They are the largest group of purchasers of goods and services in America, if not the world, and their economic well-being is critical to the success of our capitalistic system.  Without consumers - consumers with money, that is - nothing works.

There is, however, a simple remedy for the income gap, although the public ins't likely to hear about it from politicians, the media or employers.

It's called unionism.  Make it easier to organize workers and watch the gap diminish before your eyes.  Spread just a bit of those record profits among the working stiffs and see those smiling faces coming to work.

More unionism will put more money into the pockets of all workers.  Unions set compensation standards for all employees, union and nonunion.  To compete with union companies for good workers, nonunion employers are forced to pay more competitive wages.

Congress should pass the Economic Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would arm American workers with the tools to demand their fair share from their employers.  Such legislation would allow workers the choice to organize through a simple card sign-up process.

Unions are weaker now than they have been since World War II, now representing only about eight percent of the nation's private sector workers.  In the 1950s, 35 percent of all U.S. workers were represented by unions.

The downward wage spiral began in 1980 after Ronald Reagan became president.  He and his economic advisors determined that money accumulated at the top should only "trickle down" to those on the middle and lower rungs of the economic ladder.

His plan allowed those at the top to hoard money for years.  They claim to be "job creators," but that is baloney.  Instead they are exporting manufacturing jobs overseas, killing thousands of good paying American jobs, while pocketing record profits.

Even people with pea brains should understand what that has done to the middle class.  When workers earn less, they buy less.  When they buy less, employers seek to cut labor costs and increase prices to maintain profits.

Making it easier for working men and women to unionize would quickly result in higher workers' wages, thus injecting more money in the economy for purchase of goods and services.  The increasing demand for commodities would, in turn, create new jobs.

But it won't happen in my lifetime, unless:

  • All workers - union and nonunion - finally decide they will work in their own best interest.
  • Republicans begin to act as serious legislators rather than obstructionists.
  • Democrats stop paying lip service and finally take a real stand for workers by supporting federal labor law reform.
  • The public begins to consider serious problems with more profundity than talking points provided by special interests.
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Current Campaigns
  • The ‘Let’s Get America Working!’ campaign seeks to restore a dynamic and prosperous middle class to drive economic growth by helping to advance policy decisions that create and maintain good middle-income jobs, guarantee retirement security, expand access to the American Dream, and ensure that the benefits of the ongoing economic recovery are felt by the many, not just the few.

  • Negotiations for the National Master Automobile Transporters Agreement (NMATA) are under way. On Wednesday, June 3, representatives from carhaul local unions met in Detroit to approve the contract proposals and the next day, Thursday, June 4, the Teamsters National Automobile Transporters Industry Negotiating Committee (TNATINC) exchanged the contract proposals with the employer group.

    The committee will work hard to protect members’ health, welfare and pension benefits, protect job security and other address other top priorities

    The National Master Automobile Transporters Agreement (NMATA) and its supplements expire on August 31, 2015. The national contract covers almost 6,000 Teamster carhaulers.

    In addition to protecting benefits and job security, other top priorities are wages, the grievance procedures and safety and health issues.

  • The Teamsters Union represents more than 250,000 members at UPS and UPS Freight. UPS remains an active member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) despite the organization’s anti-worker and anti-union agenda that seeks to undermine and weaken worker protections.

  • This web page provides information on our fight against fast-track legislation. The measure requires Congress to take only a quick up-or-down vote on secret trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and does not allow such agreements to be amended. It limits Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight of such trade deals and lets others decide what’s best for America. The result is fewer good-paying U.S. jobs and unsafe food and products for Americans. Read more to find out why fast track is the wrong track for Teamsters and America.

  • Workers across the country at FedEx Freight and Con-way Freight are standing shoulder to shoulder to form their unions with the Teamsters to win a more secure future. Momentum is building with a first wave of victories with many more to come.

    There is growing worker resentment toward the companies after years of being treated unfairly. While the companies have suddenly made improvements since workers began to organize, workers know that without a legally binding contract the company can take these things away at any time.

    The unfulfilled promises that have been made to drivers and dockworkers over the past decade are coming back to haunt management.

    But now workers are taking action and standing up for themselves by forming their union. It's a different era now. It's Teamster Time! LIKE our Facebook page, here.

  • First Student employees’ collective bargaining agreement with the company, which covers more than 21,000 workers, expires on March 31, 2015. Employees at First Student made history when they voted overwhelmingly to ratify a national master agreement on June 1, 2011, and it is time to renegotiate that agreement. Turn to this page to get the latest contract news and updates. The first round of negotiations is scheduled for January 27-28, 2015. The national contract expires March 31, 2015.

  • Teamsters are been standing together to protect good jobs at Sysco and US Foods. Our solidarity on many fronts helped to defeat the mega-merger of the two companies, which would have put thousands of jobs at risk. But challenges remain as both companies refine their plans. Join our campaign to ensure these foodservice giants honor their agreements with 11,500 Teamsters and help us bring more Sysco and US Foods workers into the Teamster family. LIKE our Facebook page, here.


  • Taylor Farms workers in Tracy, California are standing up against poverty wages, disrespect and severe violations of their most basic rights. These 900 food processing workers in the Central Valley cut, wash and package salads and other products for the largest supplier of fresh-cut produce in the country. They feed the customers of major grocers, retailers and restaurant chains, including Walmart and McDonald’s.

    With a revenue of $1.8 billion in 2012, Taylor Farms can afford to treat its workers in Tracy with dignity and pay fair wages, just like their Teamster coworkers have at Taylor Farms’ facilities in Salinas, California. But when workers came together to organize with Teamsters Local 601, the company responded mercilessly. It fired, harassed, and punished workers for supporting the union. The company threatened immigrant workers with deportation, hiring an army of union-busters to run a non-stop fear campaign. During an NLRB election for union representation, Taylor Farms deployed a goon squad of supervisors to intimidate workers. The company’s violations were so egregious that the Labor Board impounded ballots while it investigates hundreds of Unfair Labor Practice charges.

    Workers in Tracy, following in the footsteps of labor leader and civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, are taking their fight to the public. The workers’ struggle for a better life for their families is supported by Teamsters in California and nationwide. We are building a movement for respect for the workers who feed America.

    ¡Si Se Puede!

  • Taxi drivers in Washington, D.C. are fed up!

    After years of unfair regulations and lack of respect, we are fighting back by forming the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association. Our association will be backed by Teamsters Local 922 and the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

  • The Teamsters have stood in solidarity with worker struggles in other countries since our founding. With economic globalization, our ability to organize increasingly depends on our ability to build alliances with workers on a global scale.
    More than ever, Teamsters are organizing and bargaining with multi-national companies. A key objective of our Global Strategies Campaign is to build strong alliances with unions around the globe who organize and bargain with common employers. Our focus is on workers in the emerging global supply chains – the infrastructure of globalization.
    Globalization creates new opportunities for international worker solidarity. We seek common cause with workers around the world to build social justice for all workers and the communities in which they live.

Teamsters Local 455
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