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What, me worry?- An anxious week turns into success

05.23.08

What, me worry?- An anxious week turns into success

Reprinted from the Lehigh Valley (PA) Labor Council Newsletter

by Gregg Potter, CWA #13500
President, Lehigh Valley Labor Council

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, some of which have actually happened.”
Mark Twain

The week ending May 3, 2008 was one of the busiest this Labor Council has experienced in quite awhile. At times I wondered if we could pull it all off. That fact that all our events achieved our goals may be a harbinger of things to come.

We started off on Sunday, April 27 with our annual remembrance of Workers Memorial Day. Once again, labor leaders, politicians, candidates, and concerned citizens, all made the trek to the Bethlehem Rose Garden at 8th Street and Union Blvd. in Bethlehem to mourn for those who lost their lives on the job.

Many thanks go to state Rep. Joseph Brennan who procured a citation from the state House acknowledging Workers Memorial Day. Similar citations were received from Allentown City Council, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Easton City Council, and Northampton County Council.

Just imagine saying goodbye to a loved one on their way to work, only to find that it would be the final memory you would have of them. This event has played itself out far too often and one more death or injury is simply intolerable. Last year in Pennsylvania, 240 workers were killed on the job. Across the United States, 5703 were killed and over 4.1 million workers were injured.

The untold tragedy is the fact that in Pennsylvania the average fine levied on a company where a serious safety violation has occurred is the paltry sum of $817.00. This is a tragedy unto itself and until politicians wake up to the fact that people are dying while they are performing their jobs, we are doomed to repeat history on a daily basis.

Companies continue to cut corners and costs in every way possible, including safety standards, while at the same time handing out record setting compensation packages for their CEOs. It is a real example of greed and unfortunately, there is no immediate answer in sight. Until we have a worker-friendly White House and National Labor Relations Board, and the President and Congress put teeth back in OSHA, we can expect more of the same.

News Item: Senator McCain appears in Lehigh Valley

Wednesday, April 30, Sen. John McCain took his show on the road to the Lehigh Valley. He made a stop at Saucon Valley Country Club for a fundraising event.

McCain’s visit epitomized the difference in the philosophies of his party and the Democrats. Barely a week earlier, Sen. Barack Obama sat at the BrewWorks and enjoyed a beer with the Fegley family. Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared at Liberty High School to espouse her views on the race for President.

“McBush,” as some call McCain because of his strong support for the President’s policies on the economy and the war, prefers the company of the right wing elite, while the Democratic candidates relate to the working man and woman. It wasn’t that long ago that Bush referred to groups like the Saucon Valley Country Club as “his base.” As you can see, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

McCain’s voting record speaks for itself## he voted against healthcare for children in the SCHIP program and FOR billions in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. He even advocated for legislation that would put final say on care in the hands of HMOs, not patients and doctors. At a time when most voters—Republican and Democrat—agree that we need broad reform to cover more Americans, reduce costs and improve quality of healthcare, McCain’s plan would actually send us backwards on all three counts.

Over 47 million Americans go to bed each night without healthcare, not because they don’t want it, but because they cannot afford it! McCain’s plan is to initiate a $2500.00 tax credit for an individual who buys their own healthcare. If think they will take? Many of the working poor can not simply write out a check for $4800.00 for a year of health insurance. Individuals are left to themselves to purchase healthcare or food or the ever rising gas pump price: which avenue do you think they will take?One of my personal highlights last Wednesday was partnering with the people from Working America. Along with other Labor Council delegates, I joined them in a rally outside Lehigh Valley Hospital while McCain was inside touting his healthcare agenda.

Working America is an impressive group and I look forward to working with them this election season. The labor movement reaches out to ALL workers: We reach out on the job through unions and we reach out in the community through Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate.

Working America organizes people who don’t yet have a union where they work, signing people in the community up as members. By Labor Day 2008, the organization projects it will have over 400,000 members in Pennsylvania, with nearly one-quarter of those in the Lehigh Valley area. Two-thirds of non-union working families join Working America when they receive a visit, showing how eager working folks are to get active in economic issues.

The labor movement’s top priority this year is fighting for quality affordable health care for all. Union members are fighting, as are community members. To date, 14,000 non-union workers (Working America members) in the Lehigh Valley have signed Working America’s petition for quality, affordable health care.

The numbers Working America brings show the power of organizing union workers on the job, and their non-union neighbors in the community through Working America. We are grateful for their efforts in organizing the unorganized.

News Item: Labor Council Labor Seminar Success

Several months ago, Indiana University of Pa. sent us an offer to apply for a grant that would underwrite the costs of a labor seminar. Suzannjoy Checksfield wrote up a grant request and eventually we were given the go ahead to plan a two-day workshop that would be free of charge to individuals attending.

On May 2 and 3rd, IUP professors Cindy Spielman and James Watta came to the Tri-Boro Sportsmen Club in Northampton and spoke at length on Union Grievances and the importance of Union Stewardship. Over 35 union members attended the workshop and they came away with a lot more than what they walked in with. Each participant was presented with; a Glossary for Useful Labor Relation Terms, the Pennsylvania Labor History Journal, and the Union Steward’s Complete Guide, 2nd Edition, edited by David Prosten.

There was a diverse background of unions in attendance, from Teamsters to Teachers, from Letter carriers to LANTA transit workers. Each member had their own issues, and learned from others as the debate flowed. Education is what builds and strengthens the Labor Movement and this workshop was a first rate example of what can be accomplished when we get motivated and attain some financial assistance. Thanks again to Watta and Spielman, and a special thanks to Suzannjoy who did a stellar job in planning this event and implementing it.

News Item: Lehigh Valley Central Labor Council celebrates 47th Annual Awards Dinner.

Until recently, our annual event was known as the COPE Dinner and was a tradition since the Lehigh County Labor Council was in existence. After the merger between the Lehigh County Labor Council and the Northampton County Labor Council was finalized in 2000, we took the best of both councils and incorporated them into the Lehigh Valley Labor Council. The annual dinner had been going on for some time, so I took the liberty of including the age and making this our 47th Annual Awards Dinner.

On Saturday, May 3rd we hosted nearly 250 people at the Northampton Memorial Community Center in Northampton Borough. We were honored to host state Auditor General, Jack Wagner as our guest speaker and he did not disappoint.

We also publicly thanked Capital Blue Cross for their ongoing support of Organized Labor in the Lehigh Valley. And we gave special recognition to someone who has given so much back to the community over her career…Ellen Redline. It was an energetic and motivated crowd and after some politically charged speaking, we all enjoyed the comedy of nationally known stand-up entertainer, Jimmy Carroll.

The evening could not have been the success it was without lots of hard work. I want to recognize some of the people responsible for the great turnout and smooth operation.

John and Nancy Werkheiser again did a fabulous job providing gorgeous table centerpieces, organizing the slide show and just so many general errands, too many to list. Jim and Nicole Schlener were a huge help as always and Nicole and Dorothy Baran formed an effective one-two punch selling raffle tickets.

Mike Wallery ably manned the ticket area and somehow made heads and tails of the checks and cash, and also listened to me vent. Suzannjoy Checksfield again made the stage look professional with her IATSE talents showing for all to see. And the Mailroom, the area’s only unionized printer, produced the finest dinner booklet that I have seen. Their work was phenomenal and we are indebted to their generosity and talents.

Each member of our delegation and executive board did their own part in persuading their local to buy ads and tickets to their own voluntary efforts. The one underlying theme that was so evident during this frantic week was a TREMENDOUS sense of teamwork and pride. I feel so lucky and honored to serve as your President.

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