June 21-24, 2007
Remarks by Edgar Romney, Secretary-Treasurer of Change to Win

Americans for Democratic Action 60th Anniversary Convention
Washington, DC

  • Good morning everyone and thank you for the kind introduction. 
  • As a Board member of ADA and Secretary-Treasurer of Change to Win, I am honored to be here to speak with you at our 60th Anniversary Convention.
  • I bring greetings from Change to Win President Anna Burger and members of our organization’s Leadership Council.
  • The gap between rich and poor in this country widens every day.
  • We now have over 35 million people living in poverty in America. This is shameful, and as the greatest country on earth we can do a lot better.
  • As corporations become more and more profitable, workers are seeing their ‘American Dream’ crumble.
  • The American dream of a decent paycheck that supports the family……… quality, affordable health care….. a secure and dignified retirement system…and the Freedom to organize unions…where is the American dream today??
  • The loss of union density resulted in a great deal of reflection by labor leaders on how best to protect workers in this global economy.   
  • In September of 2005, seven international unions – SEIU, UNITE HERE, UFCW/RWDSU, the Teamsters, Carpenters, Laborers, and the United Farm Workers – came together to form a historic partnership with one goal in mind – to restore dignity to the hardworking people in our country.
  • I am proud to represent Change to Win’s top leadership team, to fight for the American Dream for today’s diverse workers.
  • We committed 75% of our Federation’s resources to organizing and meet regularly to coordinate organizing efforts, and we have seen results.
  • Working together, Change to Win unions, community activists and religious leaders are fighting to improve dangerous conditions for 6,000 meatpacking workers at the Smithfield hog processing plant in a campaign led by UFCW.
  • SEIU and the Teamsters are bringing school bus drivers together with parents and public officials to ‘Drive Up Standards’ in the bus industry.
  • SEIU is organizing security guards to assure that more building personnel have living wage jobs.
  • The Teamsters want to make sure that 100,000 truck drivers at our nation’s Ports won’t be considered independent contractors and that they can organize for better pay and working conditions and to improve our nation’s security.
  • Members of my union, UNITE HERE, demand that CINTAS – the most profitable uniform and laundry company in North America – stop paying poverty wages.
  • The Hotel Workers’ Rising Campaign aims to make sure that profitable hotels in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico provide living wage jobs.
  • Workers, students, community groups, politicians, and celebrities have supported our efforts to assure that profitable companies pay their workers a living wage.
  • Senator John Edwards and actor/activist Danny Glover have thrown their support behind our Hotel Workers’ Rising campaign.
  • And actor/director George Clooney refused to cross a picket line at a hotel in New York when he was shooting a recent film.
  • Corporations are global and the labor movement also has to be global.
  • We must target the companies that exploit cheap labor.
  • That is why union and community members around the country are involved in efforts to ‘Wake Up Wal-Mart.’
  • With $11 billion in profits, Wal-Mart can do better than paying poverty wages, with no company health insurance for many employees, and discriminating against female and immigrant workers.
  • As someone who has spent his life in the labor movement, I am shocked  to see the deterioration of working conditions and the erosion of the middle-class in today’s economy.
  • As workers fight for meager pay raises, CEO salaries have jumped to over 400 times the average worker’s salary.
  • As workers pensions evaporate, retirement packages for the CEOs in Fortune 500 Company’s amount to millions of dollars!
  • If major corporations say that they cannot afford to support their long-time workers with pensions, ask them how they can support their top executives in such luxury?
  • Even former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan publicly stated that the widening gap between the very rich and the rest of America is dangerous for a democratic society.
  • As advocates for fairness and democracy, we cannot allow this to continue!
  • Just last month, I was very excited to be part of an official Change to Win delegation to China.  This was truly a historic experience for me.
  • We met with leaders of the Chinese labor federation – the ACFTU – and spent one all day session sharing information on how we – and they – engage in collective bargaining.
  • ACFTU officials took pride in the fact that they have organized 40 Wal-Mart stores, with supportive pressure from their government.
  • China’s cities are as modern as any city in the world.
  • We toured a deep-sea port near Shanghai that handles 6,500 containers in 24 hours.
  • We toured a garment factory that produces children’s clothes.
  • The facility was large, clean and modern.
  • But workers have problems.
  • The garment factory employs young women from the countryside.
  • They stay in dormitories and are only able to see their families once or, if they’re lucky, twice a year.
  • The ACFTU showed us workers’ living quarters, dining halls, and recreation facilities and they recognize that workers’ conditions have to change.
  • One of the areas that continues to be a major problem in China is the use of Child Labor. 12- 13 and 14 year old children are being exploited in factories and other work places. Some children are even dying from the type of work they are doing.
  • Many children are working 16-20 hour days, and wages are underpaid or not paid at all!  There is very little that is done about it, because there is no one to complain to.
  • Privately we were told that in spite of the fact that the government was aware of such problems, they are too preoccupied with economic growth to do much about it.
  • As the treatment of workers in China comes under increased scrutiny, the Chinese government has begun to restructure its labour law to increase protections for working people.
  • Chinese unions are fighting to make these labour protections even stronger – but….. there is opposition.
  • The American Chamber of Commerce and American and European businesses are fighting against any comprehensive labor law reform in China that would reduce their profits and ‘productivity.’
  • As the current talks on trade, currency, and future relations between the United States and China are discussed at the highest levels of government, we must press our government to make sure that worker rights and human rights are part of those talks.
  • Chinese labor officials know they have an uphill battle against such a daunting adversary as the US business community and they need our help.
  • We met with the American Chamber of Commerce, and although they claim to be trying to improve conditions for children and workers, but at the end of they day their  position is ………“if we push too hard American business will leave China”
  • We hope to continue the dialogue we have begun and have invited delegation from the ACFTU come to the US as we try to establish relationships that foster solidarity to meet the needs of workers in both countries.
  • As businesses become global, so must our efforts to provide decent conditions for working people all over the world.
  • Over the last few days, you have heard dynamic speakers providing their vision of the future – a future that we certainly hope includes a Democratic President as well as a Democratic Congress.
  • 2008 is obviously an important election year.
  • According to recent polls, less than 1/3 of the American public think President Bush is doing a good job.
  • We hope that this translates into a candidate who will advance a progressive agenda that will benefit working people.
  • What is labor’s agenda for 2008?
  •  Stop the war in Iraq, fight for a decent health care policy, humane immigration reform, and never forget the right to organize-organize-organize.
  • End the War in Iraq. Some of the members and staff of my union have family serving in the military and we certainly thank them for their sacrifices and wish them a safe and speedy return.
  • Given that they are fighting in a war that was begun under false pretences, the question we must ask is…how long will this continue?
  • At present, more than 3,500 Americans, hundreds of Coalition forces, and thousands of Iraqis have been killed and thousands more have been wounded.
  • We have spent over $450 billion dollars – money that could have gone to fund schools, health care initiatives, affordable housing, and other necessary services.
  • Instead, well-connected corporate players get rich while our communities suffer from lack of funds.
  • Fight for a decent National health care policy.  In my local union, we have just completed negotiating collective bargaining agreements for workers in the garment industry in New York City.
  • Our biggest challenge was getting employers to continue to provide health coverage and pensions for their workers.
  • And my union is not alone in this fight – even our sisters and brothers in the health care unions are experiencing difficulties providing health insurance for their members who work in this field.
  • With an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health coverage, our country has a crisis that the next Administration will have to address.
  • We also need to defend workers’ retirement benefits, as employers try to replace defined BENEFIT plans with defined CONTRIBUTION plans.  We fought off the privatization of social security, but the struggle for retirement security for today’s workers and retirees is a big challenge.
  • Immigration Reform.  UNITE HERE and its predecessor unions – the ILGWU, ACTWU and the Hotel & Restaurant workers’ unions – have represented immigrant workers for over 100 years.
  • Immigration policy is another area that very much affects our union members and their families.
  • Recent raids in immigrant communities have torn families apart and have undermined union organizing drives.
  • Earlier this month, just after officials in New Haven, CT, decided to issue municipal ID cards that would have provided a way for immigrants to access city services,
  • 33 homes were raided in the early morning hours and dozens were taken away in handcuffs – many of them parents forced to leave their children behind.
  • And it is no coincidence that when undocumented workers try to organize for better working conditions, immigration agents are suddenly ‘vigilant’ about enforcing the law.
  • As someone who was influenced by the civil rights’ struggles of the 1950s and 60s and has spent his life in the Labor Movement, I will not stand by and watch our country create a workforce of second-class citizens.
  • That is why I stand together with my colleagues in organized labor engaged in this important policy debate on immigration.
  • All workers must have the right to decent wages and working conditions or, eventually, none of us will.
  • Organizing the Unorganized.  I started my remarks today with a discussion on Change to Win’s Organizing campaigns, and as a lifelong organizer, I will end on the issue of organizing. 
  • A recent survey suggests that 60 million workers in the U.S. would join a union if they could. *
  • However, workers are regularly harassed, intimidated and retaliated against when they try to improve their workplaces.
  • Given these difficulties, workers and religious leaders across the country have been urging their Congressional representatives to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • This would allow workers to join a union through card check neutrality.
  • As the Senate began debate on this bill on Tuesday, unions with the AFL-CIO and Change to Win joined forces here in Washington to rally in support of what could be the most important labor reform legislation in 70 years.
  • If the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, employers will not be able to intimidate workers who want to join a union, which – although it is illegal – happens all the time.
  • Currently when a majority of workers want to join a union the company demands an election. They do this because they know they can fire…harass…and threaten to shut down the workplace if the union wins the election.
  • Even when Unions win elections and employers are legally bound to negotiate in good faith, they find ways to drag out first contracts and try to erode union support.
  • We have seen this first hand in our hotel organizing and it happens all the time in other organizing drives in other industries as well.
  • Unions are the best anti-poverty programs that we have.
  • My own union’s members – workers in garment factories, hotels, restaurants, and industrial laundries – can tell you what a difference union wages and benefits make in their lives.
  • Unfortunately, with just over 12 % of the total US workforce in unions today – and less in the private sector, our sisters and brothers working without a union contract are not likely to have the wages and benefits that union workers have come to expect.
  • This affects everyone, as it puts intense pressure on unionized employers to take away benefits in order to ‘compete’ with the non-union sector.
  • The Employee Free Choice Act will go a long way in levelling the playing field, by requiring the NLRB to take immediate legal action to reinstate fires workers for union activity and assess triple damages against companies that punish, or fire workers for getting involved in a union organizing campaign.
  • The best way to advance democracy and civic participation is through union organizing, so let’s organize, organize, organize.
  • In closing, I look forward to working together with you, as advocates for social and economic justice, to create a more progressive and just America.   Thank you!

*based on research conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in December 2006.

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