Today, more than 1.4 million members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are compensated for their skills and hard work with salaries and benefits that give them dignity and allow them to live a middle-class lifestyle. If this were true of more American workers, our economy and our country would be better off. This is a message the Teamsters intend to bring to the entire American workforce as part of the union’s new “Let’s Get America Working” campaign — if our nation is to prosper it must be union strong, America stronger. The Teamsters are unveiling a plan to help achieve those goals.
The roots of the American middle class’s economic decline are decades in the making. Spurred by a drop in union membership, fewer manufacturing jobs and an increase in the service economy, it has gotten harder and harder for workers to make ends meet. And those changes have been exacerbated by trade deals like NAFTA that have led to more than a million lost jobs.
Improving the outlook for U.S. workers isn’t about creating millions of minimum-wage jobs. It is about creating sustainable, skilled union employment that allows Americans to earn a fair wage with benefits that pay for housing and food on the table, makes education affordable and sustains a comfortable existence.
The Teamsters have put forward a platform that calls on America to invest in itself and its citizenry. By building roads, power plants and water treatment facilities, for instance, this nation can improve the fortunes of both working people and big business. And by focusing on such issues as worker rights, education and retirement security, policymakers can ensure the future is bright for all people.
The U.S. Labor Department’s own statistics support the initiative. The median union worker earns upward of $200 a week more than the median non-union worker. That’s an extra $10,000 a year that goes into the pockets of union workers. These jobs also offer health benefits and a pension.
But if Teamsters are going to strengthen the labor movement, the union needs to advance bipartisan policies that will encourage good job growth. And it must put the current and future generations of workers in a position to succeed in the workforce by giving them the skills they need.
Infrastructure presents an opportunity to break the political gridlock. Congress in late July approved a three-month extension for spending on transportation projects that provides a temporary patch until the end of October for the continuing issue of road and rail funding. But it is not a real solution.
Since 2008, Congress has transferred more than $62 billion from the general fund to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat, and it has been more than a decade since Congress has passed a highway bill of more than two years in duration. Meanwhile, the transportation system continues to crumble and the safety of those who work and travel along the vast network of U.S. roads and rails is being jeopardized.
Americans have seen Republican and Democratic lawmakers call for more transportation funding. The Obama administration has put forward a six-year plan that would increase transportation funding by 45 percent, while Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Sanders calls deadly Afghan drone strike 'unacceptable' MORE (I-Vt.) has offered his own proposal that would spend $1 trillion over five years to get the U.S. moving. Now we need to make it happen.
This is just one of the areas where the Teamsters believe lawmakers can find common ground. The union also sees an opportunity for Congress to come together and address issues like energy and water infrastructure, labor rights, retirement security and education as well. The Teamsters must work with Republicans and Democrats to advance these goals.
Hardworking Americans find themselves at a crossroads. With the 2016 elections looming, they need to carefully consider their options to help turn the U.S. economy in a positive direction. A new vision is needed for the future. The Teamsters’s platform is such a proposal.
This union sees “Let’s Get America Working” as more than a Teamster slogan — it should be a mantra that inspires workers and elected officials to push forward with an agenda that helps to secure the future of regular Americans trying to provide a decent life for their families, along with all Americans seeking a better economy and a safer country.
Now is the time to build, repair and maintain America!
Hoffa is general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
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