“Why Unions Still Matter”
and Politics That Make a Difference

by Laurence B. Abrams

Education and activism were at the center of Local 695’s 1st Quarter 2018 General Membership Meeting held January 20 at the Local 80 Sound Stage in Burbank. Jennifer Halpern, Education Outreach Coordinator for the IATSE in New York, was on hand to introduce two special guests ... Diane Thomas-Halladay, Director of the Labor Education Program at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, and Erika Dinkle-Smith, who works in Washington, DC, as the IATSE’s Assistant Political and Legislative Director.

Diane delivered a comprehensive and compelling two-hour presentation on the topic of “Why Unions Still Matter.” She began with an engaging history of Labor in America, including the origin of the IATSE, formed in 1893 when representatives of stagehands from eleven cities met in New York to discuss working conditions for their peers and who ultimately, formed the IATSE to support each other in the effort to create an industry that would allow for fair wages and better working conditions. Next came the years of widespread worker exploitation that led to the passage of FDR’s seminal National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), where an enlightened and productive balance was established by acknowledging the needs of both the workers and the companies who hired them. Diane spoke about the three decades that immediately followed enactment of the NLRA, marked by extraordinary economic growth and productivity that came in tandem with strong wage growth and upward mobility for working Americans.

But political changes that followed in the 1970s, led to the cynical “trickle down” promises of the Reagan era, when Americans were asked to believe the absurd notion that shifting the wealth of the middle class to those already wealthy would somehow benefit working women and men. Charts and numbers drove the point home, showing in no uncertain terms how continued attacks on unions, stagnation of wages, laissez-faire deregulation for businesses and ever-lowered tax rates for the rich do nothing but harm workers and the middle class.

But Diane didn’t leave without planting a positive outlook to the future. While many unions across the country are seen in decline, the IATSE is clearly not one of them, posting steady membership gains each and every year for decades, very much in keeping with President Loeb’s theme and goal for the IA … Growth = Strength. Make no mistake … unions across the country are getting louder, stronger and even more determined.

Diane then introduced our next guest, Erika Dinkle-Smith, the IATSE’s Assistant Political and Legislative Director in Washington, DC. Erika made it clear that there are significant dangers that Labor will be facing in the coming months, from Janus v. AFSCME, an upcoming case before the right-leaning Supreme Court asking the question, “Do members of public unions have to pay dues?” to the “Employee Rights Act,” a cynically named right-to-work act on steroids, designed to lower wages by further weakening unions across the country. And with an increasingly divided Congress, the challenge to actually get something done, let alone do something to restore prosperity and stability to the middle class, becomes very difficult to achieve. But Erika also described a path to making real and positive change. If the game is to be played in Sacramento and in Washington, then we must play it there, too. And the time to act is now. As Erika so vividly phrased it, if you don’t do the hard work that it takes to get a seat at the table now, then surely you will find yourself on the menu tomorrow. And since we don’t intend to do that, the IA is making its presence known in the California State House and in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Politicians are learning how big our industry is and how many voting citizens our industry impacts. Erika also explained that this kind of activism is resource-intensive. It requires lots of volunteers and commitment, and lots of money and time. If the reaction of the 695 members who contributed on Saturday to the IATSE PAC Fund and who put their names on the Volunteer Sign-Up Sheet is any indication, it looks like we are prepared to take that challenge and we will indeed stand up and make our voices heard. The membership of Local 695 is engaged in solidarity and ready to fight for fair wages and for a strong union. 2018 elections, here we come!