On January 20, 2009, millions braved the bitter cold and billions more tuned in to witness “change.” Barack Obama was sworn in as our nation’s 44th president, and became the first African American Commander-in-Chief in U.S. history.
The day marked the long-awaited start of a new era which Obama promises will “reaffirm the greatness of our nation.”
“In the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things,” Obama told the country. “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
In his speech, President Obama acknowledged the country is in the midst of a crisis, and promised to do what is necessary to help the American people.
“Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered,” said the new president. “Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.”
Just before taking office, the president proposed an $800 billion stimulus package combining tax cuts and credits and infrastructure investments that will create three million jobs, many of them blue-collar.
“The Machinists welcome the changing tide brought about by President Obama,” said IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger. “He is a man of the people, specifically working families, and has promised to reverse the injustices that have taken hold of our great nation over the last eight years. We now look to the future, and pledge to work with the president in meeting the challenges of tomorrow.”
Nearly 1,000 Machinists employed at GKN Aerospace in St. Louis, MO, will enjoy the benefits of a new contract after members voted by a more than 88 percent margin to accept a revised contract offer.
The 966-member bargaining unit rejected GKN’s previous offer on January 11, 2009, which sent the negotiating teams back to the table to hammer out unresolved issues.
Significant changes included increased pension benefits, a return to previous language regarding overtime and retention of benefits.
“I am proud of the professional manner in which our members acted these past few months,” said District 837 President and Chief Negotiator Gordon King in a message to members. “Your strength in the shop enabled your Bargaining Committee to act with one unified voice and it paid off. The three-year contract you accepted will allow each of you to move forward in these uncertain economic times with an assurance your pay and benefits will be there every week.”
“I am pleased we were able to offer the members a contract they can be proud of,” said Aerospace Coordinator Mark Blondin, who credited the achievement to shop floor solidarity and sophisticated collective bargaining with assistance from the IAM Strategic Resources Department.
Members of Local 735 in Nashville, TN, voted January 15, 2009 by a 72 percent margin to approve a new three-year contract with Vought Aircraft Industries, bringing an end a strike over a company proposal to cut pension benefits.
Throughout the 17-week that endured through the collapse of the nation’s credit and banking sectors, Vought representatives refused to consider alternate pension proposals, threatening instead to move large amounts of work from the facility and hire permanent replacements for the striking workers.
“Throughout this long and bitter struggle, the members at Vought displayed a resolve and solidarity that deserves to be admired and remembered,” said Aerospace Coordinator Ron Eldridge who worked with the Local 735 Negotiating Committee to broker a resolution.
“The dignity they displayed in the face of insulting proposals and offensive treatment by this company will far outlast the terms of this punitive contract.”
Vought’s Nashville plant, which is 90 percent owned by the shadowy Carlyle Group, builds wings and tail sections for military, commercial and general-aviation aircraft.
Hundreds of AFL-CIO union members traveled to New Orleans, LA, to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by taking part in community service activities aimed at helping residents still struggling to overcome the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
IAM members joined with fellow union members who fanned out to 20 locations around the city with shovels, rakes, tools and supplies to provide a grassroots answer to President Obama’s call for volunteer service as a way to honor the late civil rights leader.
“Community service has always been a cornerstone of the Machinists union,” said IAM Executive Assistant Diane Babineaux, who led the IAM delegation to the Crescent City. “And there is no better time than Dr. King’s birthday to continue that tradition.”
In addition to helping to rebuild local members’ homes, the surge of union volunteer activity included providing electrical service to a local church, resurfacing ball fields and restoring a local African-American museum.
“There is a mistaken perception that New Orleans is fully recovered,” said Babineaux. “While the French Quarter and the Central Business District are doing well, many working class neighborhoods are still reeling from the effects of the storm and the growing economic recession.”
Sections of the city, including parts of St. Bernard’s Parish and the infamous Ninth Ward remain uninhabitable, while determined homeowners throughout the city continue to repair roofs, foundations and utilities damaged in the flooding. Federal assistance, which was all but absent in the days and weeks after the levees broke, continues to be difficult for homeowners to access.