Hundreds of local officers representing all three divisions of the TWU gathered in Atlanta this week for the second annual Joint President Council Meeting. Hosted by Air Division Director Andre Sutton, Railroad Division Director John Feltz, and TUUS Division Director Willie Brown, the meeting allowed member leaders from across the union to network, celebrate victories, and find strategic ways to achieve shared goals.
One of those shared goals is the TWU’s response to the accelerated advancement and introduction of unproven, unregulated technologies. Calling AI and tech advances an existential threat, TWU International President John Samuelsen drove home just how important collective bargaining and union activism will be now and in the future. Member leaders also experienced an educational presentation on the opportunities and threats posed by automation delivered by automation and labor expert Ed Wytkind.
“In America and across the globe, working people are in the fight of their lives. Its working people against the bosses, working people against job-killing robots and machines. There has never been a greater need for union activism than there is right now,” Samuelsen told TWU member leaders. “Over the next ten years, if any worker can be replaced by robots, the bosses are going to do it. The only thing standing in the way of that is the trade union movement.”
A highlight of the opening day of the meeting came with Liz Shuler, President of the AFL-CIO addressed meeting participants. Noting that more than 70 percent of Americans support unions and more than 75 percent support strike actions going on across the country, Shuler challenged TWU local officers to seize the moment and grow the trade union movement by organizing the unorganized, focusing on the future of work, and rebuilding America on the terms set by labor unions.
“I see an urgent invitation for us as a movement to do what we are born to do, and that is to go big. If we’re going to go big as a movement, the TWU has to be part of the process to make this happen,” Shuler said. “This is our moment to use the leverage we have, take risks and be bold in our ambitions and how we bring people together.”
The meeting took a somber turn when participants were reminded of everything that was lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, including time. In the years between 2020 and 2022—during the height of lockdown—dozens of TWU locals celebrated milestone golden and diamond anniversaries. Locals that achieved 50th, 70th, and 75th anniversaries were recognized at the gathering by the union’s top leadership, and will receive customized commemorative plaques for display in local union halls.
Following the joint session where member leaders from the Air, Transit, and Rail Divisions learned about and discussed common goals, local leaders were then divided by division for educational and strategic intensives that focused on issues important to them and their membership.
“It is important to understand that no matter what industry we work in, no matter what Division we’re a part of, we are all TWU. The one thing we have in common is obvious: We have to deal with all these rotten bosses,” Sutton said.