On Labor Day, we take time to recognize the achievements and struggles of all working Americans. In 2017, this yearly celebration could not be more important. The economic system in our country is failing workers, especially young workers, the working poor, and retirees who either can’t find decent employment that supports a family or can’t afford to retire with respect and dignity.
We know we can do better; and if the politicians aren’t willing to do the work, we will do it ourselves. In fact, that’s exactly what the labor movement is doing right here in Montana.
The coal industry in America is facing an uncertain future and so are workers. Nowhere is this truer than in Colstrip. There have been a multitude of politicians who have tried to take advantage of this uncertainty for their own political gain. They spent their time pointing fingers and saying closures were the fault of President Obama or Governor Bullock rather than actually rolling up their sleeves and working toward real solutions. We’ve seen a lot of talk, but little action.
During the 2017 Legislature, there was an attempt to pass a bill that would have given some relief and certainty to the workers and families of Colstrip and held massive out-of-state utilities accountable. It was introduced by Sen. Duane Ankney and was supported by both Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated by a Republican-controlled House committee, whose leadership did the bidding for out-of-state corporations and utilities. When some legislators attempted to bring the bill to the House floor, a small fringe group of extreme Republicans and Democrats worked together to kill the bill. The political system failed workers, again.
Montana's labor movement did not sit idly by and wait for the future of our workers to be decided by the Legislature. Instead, a coalition of labor organizations, government, and environmental organizations worked together in an effort to help our brothers and sisters in Colstrip. Because of this work, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $4.7 million grant to help coal communities in Montana stabilize and plan for the future. The coalition that made it happen consisted of Jason Walsh from the Obama White House; Montana Commissioner of Labor Pam Bucy and her staff; the Northern Plains Resource Council; and the Montana AFL-CIO and our affiliates. If our politicians won’t stand up for workers, unions and our allies will.
The Montana Labor Movement will continue to fight to improve the lives of all workers.
In 2016, thousands of Montana workers voted to join unions. Working people are organizing because they want a voice in the workplace, fair pay and benefits, and someone that has their back.
Workers know the rules of the economy are rigged against them and that unions are our best tool for fighting back. Inequality is not inevitable. The economy is simply a set of rules. We can, and we must, elect leaders and put policies in place that will rewrite those rules so wages are high, benefits are strong, work is safe, retirement is secure and the freedom to negotiate is universal.
As you celebrate this Labor Day, please remember what this day is about: the continued struggle for an economy that benefits those who work, not just those who are already incredibly wealthy.