Looking ahead to the challenges of 2016

As the new year begins and we look at what 2016 will bring, we must also reflect on 2015 and the challenges we faced and how we’ve grown and learned from those moments that came to define the last year. We must do this if we are to move forward and ready ourselves for the challenges of 2016. First of all, we cannot talk about the UAW in 2015 without talking about collective bargaining. Thousands of UAW members voted on their respective contracts. As I said before, what I love about our organization is that no matter what we do, what action we take, the ultimate decision and the power of the union is our members and they make the final decision.

This is worker democracy in the workplace and this is what having a voice means. That is the design of our Constitution and who we are.

There was plenty of healthy debate and we are a stronger union for it. Second, we cannot look to 2016 without underscoring the importance of the presidential election, congressional political races, and the not-so-evident influence the outcome of those elections have on our future. Who do we want, for example, to make Supreme Court appointments, lower court appointments, and NLRB and OSHA appointments? We want people who understand working Americans to be appointed to those positions and we must elect politicians who share our values to do it.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if we had a different political climate in 2008?

Our union and our bargaining rights — and our jobs, wages and benefits — have and will be under attack by right-wing politicians and the corporate interests who bankroll them.

The auto crisis could have played out differently if more politicians who were against us had been in office. The auto loan was blocked by Senate Republicans even after passing overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives. They let political ideology get in the way of protecting the country’s best interests. However, we had enough support in Washington from politicians who realized that the automakers were worth saving that we can be here today to talk about what we are going to do in the future to ensure our health and prosperity.

Since 2008, right-to-work legislation has advanced into the industrial heartland. Decades of progress on issues such as health and safety, workers’ compensation and others is in peril. The record of the 114th Congress isn’t one that contains a lot of victories for working Americans. Without President Obama’s veto pen, it could have been much worse. There are lawmakers who don’t understand or don’t care that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will destroy decent-paying jobs in this country even worse than NAFTA did. There are politicians who are blind to problem that low-wage, part-time jobs are not good jobs and just because people are employed, doesn’t mean they are not living in poverty. We need elected officials to understand that these jobs hurt workers and our nation.

Who’s in office matters!

The year 2016 is critical for us. Will we elect a president who believes that unions have a critical role to play in the life of working Americans and in the future of our nation? Will our next president choose Supreme Court or National Labor Relations Board nominees who are on the side of workers?

Or will we sit on the sidelines and let others decide? Will we let the people like the Koch Brothers decide who the next president is and how they will further degrade the union movement, depress wages, and worsen economic inequality?

Will we elect lawmakers who understand that compromise and negotiation is a part of the
legislative process and healthy for democracy? Or will we have the same lawmakers who shut down the federal government and were responsible for the

UAW President Dennis Williams

gridlock that Washington has been in for most of the last eight years? Will our work in state capitals and local communities assure that statewide and local officeholders honor our views on the rights of working men and women?

It’s never too early to start thinking about the election when we have so much at stake. Our UAW National Community Action Program (CAP) exists to make sure what is won at the bargaining table is not taken away in Washington or the state capitols. It’s importance to our efforts to build a better tomorrow for all American workers cannot be overstated. Without the tireless work of UAW CAP activists in 2008 and 2012, President Obama might not have been elected and re-elected. Without President Obama — and the hard work of tens of thousands of UAW members — the domestic auto industry would not have come back in such dramatic fashion from the dark days of 2008-2010. We do this through actively participating in the electoral process. We educate our co-workers on the benefits of electing pro-worker candidates and the dangers of complacency. We work for pro-worker candidates by phone banking, door knocking, holding conversations in the workplace and at the dinner table, and on social media.

Our union and our bargaining rights — and our jobs, wages and benefits — have and will be under attack by right-wing politicians and the corporate interests who bankroll them. What we do matters, community action matters. I want to wish you a Happy 2016 and tell you that it’s time to be one strong union again.