By Rudy Gonzalez | Secretary-Treasurer
The sense of grief and loss I feel is tremendous as I write this column. That’s because last month, we lost brother Javier Padilla Romero, a member of Laborers Local 261, while he was on the job.
Based on the facts that I have, I’m reluctant to characterize what happened to Javier as an accident. That said, I won’t opine on the circumstances until the investigation has played out. What I will say is that this 25-year-old union brother, who had just achieved journeyman status in May, should have gone home with the rest of his crew after working for local San Francisco signatory D’Arcy and Harty that day.
Javier’s death is unacceptable, and it’s up to us to ensure that something like it doesn’t happen again. Grief turns to anger when I see more foolhardy politicians aim for headlines about building faster and by-right without so much as a word of acknowledgement to the hardworking women and men who have to actually build these structures. When corners are cut, it is our lives, our families, and our communities that pay the price. When adequate safety, staffing, and conditions to prevent the avoidable are flouted, we suffer.
Take heed and beware the politician who brings you their next big idea, be it by ordinance or ballot measure. Ask: What are the tradeoffs for safety? What are the tradeoffs for working people?
Let’s not forget how many codes, laws, and standards appeared only after too much blue-collar blood had been shed. Let’s not be so concerned with the almighty dollar that we risk our necks for it.
Let this be a reminder that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ and siblings’ keepers. Safety isn’t just a tagline or a hard-hat sticker. It is a commitment to making sure that we all go home at the end of the job.
When it comes to issues of work safety, bite your tongue with neither boss nor apprentice. Instead, trust your gut. It might just save your life or someone else’s.
New Org Labor Feature on the Way
Next month, we’ll tap into some old-school education and empowerment.
When I was a young teamster, I learned about my union’s history of letting members know how their elected officials voted long before an endorsement was recommended. Jimmy Hoffa launched a political program for the IBT called DRIVE (Democrat Republican Independent Voter Education) to help elect union-friendly lawmakers and support or oppose legislation that was important to the membership.
DRIVE has come a long way since its inception in 1959, when the wives of teamsters would lead caravans to statehouses and advocate for improved conditions for workers. Today, it’s a robust program that many unions also use. This council uses something similar that came from the AFL in 1955 called COPE (Committee on Political Education) to make its political endorsements.
With this in mind, our new feature will focus on the education behind the endorsement. Before you hear an endorsement, we want you to already have a good idea about how your elected officials are actually voting. Oftentimes the sausage is made in back rooms and quiet committee meetings where laws are blocked, gutted, amended, and advanced before the average Jane or Joe ever hears about it.
So, beginning next month, we will be reporting out on the pages of Organized Labor these votes of local lawmakers and state, federal, and other officials who have influence over our industry and conditions.
Expect balls and strikes to be called. Expect to see household names. Expect no punches to be pulled. It will be straight-up-and-down how they voted on the issues that matter to us as building trades workers. That way, you will be the judge come next election, and our commitment to you will be to keep you informed enough to vote with confidence based on the facts.
Your involvement in your local union will be the empowerment for all trade unionists. Cutting through the noise ain’t easy these days, and there’s plenty of spin out there. But we believe that working people like you can make a good choice and vote your paychecks at the end of the day.