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COMMENTARY: Looking to 2020 — Put Your Vote to WORK!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Ronald Reagan, who turned his back on organized labor and started America’s middle-class into a tailspin from which it has never recovered, has recently been voted by this administration’s hand-picked NLRB into the Labor Hall of Fame. I think that speaks volumes. Clearly, they have taken a page from the Old Gipper’s playbook. And clearly, it should serve as a dire warning of what is to come should we continue with the status quo.

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Vote for candidates that support the millions of working men and women in this country. Vote to keep our jobs, to keep workers safe, to protect the right to organize and to have a voice in the workplace. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Vote for candidates that support the millions of working men and women in this country. Vote to keep our jobs, to keep workers safe, to protect the right to organize and to have a voice in the workplace. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Ray Curry, Secretary-Treasurer, UAW

If you work for a living but are somewhat up in the air about who to vote for in 2020 or for that matter, if you should even bother getting to that crowded polling place, I’d like to ask that you indulge me for a minute.

Because I’ve got a story to tell you that might help with your decision. A story of working people and politicians who are working against all of us — everyday.

I’d like to go back to 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan was campaigning to the 40th president of the United States. Much of his rhetoric was designed to appeal to labor and the working men and women of this country, promising to protect jobs, to support policies that would create more jobs and put unemployed Americans back to work.

Promises betrayed

The reality of his presidency and his policies came down somewhat differently.

In fact, President Reagan’s eight years in office were devastating for labor and the middle class. He was a champion of deregulation, which systematically weakened workplace safety standards and record-keeping. He specifically went after labor by appointing three management-friendly National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members, causing the NLRB to depart from its legal obligation to actively promote collective bargaining — the constitutional right and underlying principle for the existence of unions. During his presidency, NLRB caseloads were drastically cut and the cases that did go forward went from the recent 33 percent finding in favor of employers to 75 percent favoring employers.

His economic policies shifted the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto the back of middle-class Americans.

So, why am I bringing up this sad history here in the last days of 2019?

Because Ronald Reagan, who turned his back on organized labor and started America’s middle-class into a tailspin from which it has never recovered, has recently been voted by this administration’s hand-picked NLRB into the Labor Hall of Fame. I think that speaks volumes. Clearly, they have taken a page from the Old Gipper’s playbook. And clearly, it should serve as a dire warning of what is to come should we continue with the status quo.

Stacked against us

Today, an NLRB even more conservative than President Reagan’s has moved as fast as it could to make it more difficult for unions to organize.
In December of 2017, the board overturned a rule that had made it easier to organize smaller units of workers in big factories and stores.

Another decision made it tougher for workers at fast-food restaurants and other franchised operations to unionize. What’s more, this board is further encroaching on labor by looking to slow unionization elections, a move that, as we all know too well, would give corporations more time to pressure workers to vote NO.

Here at the UAW, we saw those stalling hijinks in action in Chattanooga this summer with the effort to organize Volkswagen and give its workers a real say in their work lives.

This administration hasn’t stopped at turning the NLRB into the Chamber of Commerce. Let’s look at the Supreme Court.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in the first few months of this administration and he delivered the conservative anti-labor edge to the Janus case almost as soon as he was installed. Gorsuch, who had close ties with groups that bankrolled Janus, cast the deciding vote in a decision that prohibited public sector unions from collecting fees from non-members.

This devastating decision reversed 41 years of precedent and overturned laws in the 22 states that have not adopted “Right-to-Work” policies. And all signs indicate that, when he is not drinking beer, the administration’s second appointee, Justice Bret Kavanaugh will be just as awful.

The Huffington Post in sizing him up as anti-labor, recounted the time when a New York manufacturer created a new spinoff company to avoid bargaining with unionized workers. Federal regulators and a panel of appellate judges said the manufacturer broke the law and violated its employees’ rights.

There was, however, one judge who dissented in the appeals decision and sided with the employer: Brett Kavanaugh.

Say no more.

Supremely anti-labor

A Legal Aid lawyer put it this way, “Along with [Justice Neil] Gorsuch, [Brett Kavanaugh] is the ideal of a Koch brothers judge. He’ll be anti-labor and anti-worker.”

Of course, just as disturbing when it comes to the courts is this fact: While the Supreme Court gets the attention, it’s the lower courts that decide the bulk of the cases. In lockstep with the anti-worker overhaul of our courts, more pro-management judges have been appointed to the federal appeals courts than at any other time in our recent history, and one out of every four circuit court judges have been installed by the current administration.

And the latest anti-labor move? The nomination and seating of Eugene Scalia as Secretary of Labor, a position that historically enforces workers’ rights and U.S. labor laws. This includes laws meant to protect workers from unsafe workplaces, overtime violations, and employee misclassification. I quite honestly cannot think of anyone less likely to safeguard these protections.

Here is a highlight reel:

Back in 2006, he helped Walmart and other corporations win a lawsuit against the state of Maryland, stopping large companies from having to contribute to their employees’ health care plans or Medicaid. In 2011, he got behind Boeing’s threats to move jobs to a “Right-to-Work” state during union contract negotiations. Additionally, he defended casino boss Steve Wynn in his efforts to force casino card dealers to split their tips with pit bosses.

And here’s one for you: Scalia argued that SeaWorld had no responsibility for the violent death of one of its Orca trainers and instead blamed the victim!

Unsafe at work

And finally, we must consider the current disregard for worker safety. In 2017, 5,197 workers went to work and never returned home to their families. That is an average of 99 workers a week losing their lives while making the rich, richer. And this number can be added to the 2.8 million on the job non-fatal injuries and illnesses reported, with nearly 900,000 of them resulting in lost workdays. Current administration memorandums and executive orders have frozen new regulatory protections since the 2016 election.

Rules requiring employers to keep accurate injury and illness records and to disclose safety, health, and labor violations to qualify for federal contracts have been repealed.
Consider this: There are about 2,100 inspectors to inspect more than 8 million workplaces around the nation. That is roughly one inspector for every 59,000 workers or enough inspectors to inspect workplaces once every 150 years or so.

I ask you, what do we do with this? Is it expecting too much to go to work in the morning and come home safe to your loved ones at the end of the day?

I’ll tell you what we do. WE VOTE!

And we vote for candidates that support the millions of working men and women in this country. Vote to keep our jobs, to keep workers safe, to protect the right to organize and to have a voice in the workplace.

Take this voting season as an opportunity to tell your own story. The story of millions of hard-working Americans that our country so desperately needs to hear.

A story of how we rose up in the face of increasing wage inequality, lack of healthcare, job security and threats to a meaningful retirement; rampant corporate greed and a shrinking middle class.

Labor also faces challenges at the ballot box despite rallying their membership base. Look no further than the Presidential election of 2000 with hanging chads, deleted registered voter rolls in the 2018 Georgia Governor’s race, and the 2018 Florida Governor’s race won by a 50% to 49% margin after a recount. All three races lost by the final vote count and all three were labor endorsed candidates.

Think your vote doesn’t count? Please think again.

President, UAW

Ray Curry was elected President of the UAW on June 28, 2021 by the International Executive Board upon the retirement of UAW President Rory L. Gamble. Curry officially assumed the office of president on July 1, 2021 and will serve out the remainder of the term until June 2022. Elected UAW Secretary-Treasurer at the 37th Constitutional Convention in June 2018, Curry was instrumental in implementation of broad financial ethics reforms and oversight as part of the UAW’s Ethics Reforms Initiative.

Curry was elected Director of UAW Region 8 in June 2014 at the 36th UAW Constitutional Convention in Detroit after having served four years as the region’s assistant director.

As Region 8 director, Curry was instrumental in securing new labor agreements with various parts suppliers. In July 2015, under his leadership, the region successfully organized the first gaming bargaining unit of Region 8 as part of a coalition of four other unions to represent the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Maryland. In October 2017, the combined coalition reached its first individual collective bargaining agreements. UAW Local 17 represents the table dealers. Under Curry’s leadership, the region also won an election for representation at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in June 2018, bringing 1,250 new members into the union.

A North Carolina native and military veteran, Curry served three years on active duty in the U.S. Army and five years in the U.S. Army Reserve.

He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration / Finance. He holds a Master of Business Administration, MBA, degree from the University of Alabama.

Curry joined the UAW in July 1992, when he was hired as a truck assembler at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, (now Daimler Trucks, NA) and later became a quality assurance inspector. He remained in that position until 2004. He served on the local’s civil rights committee and as a delegate for the area A. Philip Randolph Chapter. From 1998 to 2004, UAW Local 5285 members elected him to serve in numerous leadership positions, including as UAW Constitutional Convention delegate, chairman of the trustees, financial secretary-treasurer and alternate committeeperson. He also served as chairman of the UAW North Carolina State Political Action Committee, executive board vice president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO and as a UAW member organizer on the 2003 and 2004 Freightliner organizing drives in Cleveland, Gastonia and High Point, North Carolina.

In October 2004, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger appointed him as an International representative assigned to Region 8. His assignment as a servicing representative included aerospace, automotive (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors facilities), heavy truck, and numerous automotive supplier locations in Alabama and Tennessee. He was responsible for collective bargaining, arbitration, organizing, political action and other bargaining-unit assignments. In June 2010, he was appointed Region 8 assistant director by then–Region 8 Director Gary Casteel.

Curry was elected as a 2012 Democratic National Convention alternate delegate on behalf of the state of Tennessee and later became a full voting delegate at the convention.

He is the 2017 recipient of the A. Philip Randolph Leon Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017 recipient of the Tennessee State AFL-CIO Presidential Award, the 2018 PR Latta Rank and File Award from the North Carolina AFL-CIO, as well as the 2019 National Newspaper Press Association’s National Leadership Award.

A longtime grassroots activist, Curry is a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, a Silver Life member of the NAACP, and member of the national NAACP Board of Directors. He is also an active member of numerous community and social organizations including but not limited to the Michigan State Democratic Party, American Legion Post 177 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Unique Masonic Lodge #85, Charlotte Consistory #35, and Rameses Temple #51 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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