Teamster Strong, America Stronger


Today, the more than 1.4 million members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters earn pay 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 the message the Teamsters intend to bring to the entire American workforce as part of the union’s new “Let’s Get America Working” campaign: It is a fact that when unions are strong and workers are earning more for their labor, our country’s economy benefits. The catchphrase “Teamster Strong, America Stronger” sums up that sentiment.

“Our union is getting fully behind an effort to put U.S. workers at the forefront of economic expansion,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “That means creating new jobs that pay a salary that can support a family, and having a system in place that allows those who work hard and play by the rules to have the ability to send their kids to college and retire with dignity.”

The roots of the American middle class’ economic decline are decades in the making. Spurred by a decline 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.

Crumbling Infrastructure

At the same time American workers’ fortunes have been declining, our nation’s infrastructure has been on a similar downward trend. Our roads, bridges, power grids, as well as our ports and rail systems, are all in critical need of restoration and repair. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that America’s infrastructure needs fixing.

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, our nation can improve the fortunes of both working people and big business.

Improving the outlook for U.S workers isn’t about creating millions of minimum-wage jobs. It is about creating sustainable, skilled employment that allows Americans to earn a fair wage with benefits that allows them to pay for housing and food on the table and sustain a middle-class lifestyle. Historically, a healthy middle class translates into a healthy economy.

The U.S. Labor Department’s own statistics support the initiative. The median union worker earns more than $200 a week more than the median nonunion worker. That’s an extra $10,000 a year that goes into the pockets of union workers. These jobs also offer health benefits and retirement security. That extra money ends up powering our country’s economy.

If the Teamsters are going to strengthen the labor movement and the nation’s economic outlook, the union needs to support 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.

Finding Solutions

There was a time when building infrastructure and improving job training and education weren’t partisan issues—they were American values, something we all supported. But like our country’s infrastructure, our government is broken and must be fixed.

Partisan bickering has replaced finding solutions.

“Something has got to change in the way our government operates and the direction we are heading as a country,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer. “As we enter the 2016 election cycle, it is time to put lawmakers and candidates from both parties on notice. It’s time to get America working again.”

Infrastructure presents an opportunity to break the political gridlock. Congress recently approved a three-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund 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 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 lawmakers, including Reps. Jim Renacci of Ohio and Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, as well as business interests like the Chamber of Commerce, call for infrastructure investment. We’ve heard Democrats like Minority Leader Harry Reid call for transportation funding.

The Obama administration has put forward a six-year plan that would increase  transportation funding by 45 percent, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (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 from both parties 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 will work with Republicans and Democrats to advance these goals.

A New Vision Is Needed

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’ platform is such a proposal.

“Let’s Get America Working” is more than a Teamster slogan—it should be a mantra that inspires workers and elected officials to push forward with an agenda for a better economy, a stronger country and a better way of life.

Infrastructure investments are an ideal place to start. Infrastructure jobs, unlike those in other sectors, can’t be outsourced.

They improve living standards for all Americans, including the men and women who help to repair and maintain roads, bridges, ports, airports and mass transit systems, along with those who earn a living transporting goods and the vast majority of Americans who use our transportation networks every day.

Rebuilding, repairing and reinvestment doesn’t just need to be about transportation and energy projects—it can be about rebuilding and repairing the trust between government and workers by reinvesting in the people that have and can continue to make this country great. Better pay will lead to more spending and improve our quality of life. That way everyone wins.

Now is the time to build, maintain and repair America!

Fixing Our Transportation Infrastructure


Our nation’s roads, bridges, ports, airports, railroads and mass transit systems are crumbling. Most Americans use these systems every day, including hundreds of thousands of Teamsters, be it as truckers, railroad workers, bus drivers, building tradesmen and others. Our nation’s failure to maintain and improve our infrastructure is reaching crisis levels.

The issue is growing more significant every year, as drivers across the country are experiencing longer and longer commutes.

The total cost of congestion nationwide was $121 billion in 2011, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. Meanwhile, 2.9 billion gallons of fuel were wasted in congested traffic, which according to the same study costs the average consumer $818 a year.

To adequately maintain our transportation systems, the Congressional Budget Office says an additional $13 billion a year needs to be invested by federal, state and local governments. However, surface transportation investment actually has declined at all levels of government between 2002 and 2012, when adjusted for inflation.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that $3.6 trillion should be spent on infrastructure by 2020 to get the U.S. back on track. The Teamsters demand that Congress fully fund transportation infrastructure improvements immediately.

Congress has multiple options for funding infrastructure. Taxing repatriated corporate cash held overseas or increasing the gas tax are two such options. Paying more fuel taxes would hit the average wage earner harder than everyone else. Therefore, a progressive tax solution like taxing repatriated funds is the preferred solution.

Among the top transportation concerns:

Taking a Stand for Working Families


Although Republicans and Democrats often disagree on how the law should support the rights of workers to organize, there is a growing consensus that businesses should not be allowed to circumvent basic employment laws.

For example, the Republican-controlled Georgia state legislature is investigating whether companies in that state deliberately misclassify employees as “part time” or “contractors” in order to avoid paying minimum wage or payroll taxes.

Companies that engage in misclassification are not paying their fair share. By not paying payroll taxes, employers shirk their responsibility to contribute to state unemployment or disability funds. That leaves taxpayers on the hook to provide services for those who lose their jobs or cannot work. It means that law-abiding employers are punished in the marketplace by lawbreakers that cut costs illegally. The Teamsters believe that employees should be treated fairly, that the letter and spirit of employment law should be upheld, and that deliberate violations of employment law should be punished to the fullest extent possible.

There is also the battle over prevailing wage rules. In states such as Indiana, Nevada and West Virginia, too many lawmakers are buying into the argument that low wages for skilled professionals are OK if it means the state will save money. This at a time when many states are doling out tax breaks to corporations raking in record profits.

In addition, the Teamsters support the continued use of project labor agreements (PLAs) in government construction projects. PLAs ensure that workers get paid a fair wage at a time when income inequality is increasing in this country.

Golden Years


Workers should have enough money to live comfortably when they retire. All hardworking Americans should share in the American dream of living their golden years without fear of bankruptcy or poverty. But with pensions under attack and Social Security’s future uncertain, many questions remain about whether that will be a reality for millions of Americans approaching retirement age.

The federal government must take steps to guarantee that those who played by the rules and were promised retirement benefits have financial security when their working days have ended. That means strengthening Social Security and ensuring that workers get the benefits they earned from their pensions.

Social Security helped to pave the way for middle class retirement security. But that kind of basic living standard will not continue unless significant changes are made, like doing away with the income cap so that truck drivers and millionaires pay comparable payroll tax rates. Today, with the income cap on Social Security contributions, a truck driver might be taxed on 100 percent of his or her income, while a private equity fund manager pays on only 1 percent of his or her income. That regressive tax policy, when we face a retirement security crisis, has been harmful to American workers and the American economy.

Meanwhile, financial institutions have declared war on pensions. Wall Street teamed up with big business last December to push through a federal spending bill that attacked workers’ pensions and put their retirement at risk. The same Wall Street banks that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars managing pension funds lobbied to reduce pension benefits for the people whose hard work created those funds. Congress did the bankers’ bidding and reduced benefits, but the banks get to keep making millions on the backs of the very pensioners whose benefits were cut. That is unfair, unjust, and un-American.

The Teamsters support the efforts of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others who want to protect the pensions of retirees enrolled in multiemployer pension plans by revamping provisions included in the federal budget last year. Retirees should get what they were promised.

Losing Power


A short fall in energy investment will cause major problems for the American people if left unaddressed. The power industry needs to spend $2.1 trillion by 2035 to modernize the electrical grid and prepare for more renewable energy, according to the International Energy Agency. Meanwhile, ASCE gives the nation’s energy infrastructure a barely passable D+.

A comprehensive, bipartisan energy bill could be introduced in the 113th Congress. Among other key provisions, to maximize job creation, a comprehensive energy bill should:

Regarding water, recent historic droughts in the West demonstrate why a shortage of this essential resource threatens our agriculture, environment and standard of living. California has put mandatory conservation policies in place to help control its minimal reserves. Other Western states are experiencing similar, if not quite as severe, water shortages.

The lack of water supply demonstrates why lawmakers must look for other solutions. These include significant improvements to existing water infrastructure and the construction of desalinization plants, such as those developed in arid regions of the Middle East and around the world, to help California and other states supply water to tens of millions of residents.

Skills to Pay the Bills


To fill 21st century jobs, workers need the skills employers seek. For many, those can be attained by attending college and earning a degree that prepares them for the working world. Increasingly, however, cost is a consideration and Congress needs to do more to ensure student loan rates remain low so students can better afford their post-secondary schooling.

A college degree, however, is not the answer for all people. The Teamsters are at the forefront of worker training, such as our commercial driver’s license training program for those leaving the military, recognized by the Department of Defense as an outstanding program. But there is a need to boost vocational training for the U.S. population at large.

It should be the goal of lawmakers across the political spectrum to encourage youth not pursuing post-secondary academic studies to obtain training in a skill area that will provide them with the opportunity to earn a living wage and a career track that will ultimately give them a foothold in the middle class.

Better worker training means better services and safety for all Americans. Labor unions like the Teamsters make it happen every day. Imagine that you are driving down an icy road late at night.

You see an 18-wheeler semi driving towards you. Ask yourself this question: Do you want the driver of that truck to be a part-time contractor, or a Teamster who has received top-level training, along with sufficient rest the night before?

The choice is clear. A Teamster behind the wheel makes the road a safer place for you to drive. Worker training, particularly through labor unions like the Teamsters, is good for workers and good for America.