December 16, 2013

“Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas”
2013 Holiday Message from Region 8 Director Gary Casteel

The days are growing shorter and the temperatures are dipping, reminding us the holidays are fast approaching. Here in Region 8 we had another busy year, through organizing and union building across the region. Our members have worked to build the middle class tirelessly, through social activism and their day-to-day efforts in their workplace.

While members have been busy supporting the working class this year, unfortunately too many of our elected officials have been busy attacking the working class and working poor. In March the sequester cuts went into effect reducing federal spending by $85 billion. The sequester was the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that was passed to give Washington time to work on spending reductions, but having a deadline of March 2013 to reach an agreement. When that didn’t happen, automatic spending cuts went into effect that have resulted in a serious impact to those in need. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and Head Start have been particularly hit hard and the impact has been felt across the country. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, if left in place the sequester will cost 1.6 million jobs through 2014. While many in Washington lament the cuts to defense, few have bothered to worry about the impact to the most vulnerable of society.

Two great organizations are Meals on Wheels and our federally funded Head Start programs. Using 2012 data, Meals on Wheels estimates the 5.1% cut will mean the reduction of 19 million meals nationwide. Another 70,000 children have lost day care through federally funded Head Start programs.

To add insult to injury, early this year Congress passed a new version of the Farm Bill that once again targeted the most vulnerable members of society. Few people realize that SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – better known as Food Stamps) is included in the Farm Bill that provides subsidies to about 18% of farms across the country. The Congressional version of this bill cuts $40 billion over ten years, while the Senate version cuts $4 billion. These cuts would kick 3.8 million off the program alone in 2014, including 170,000 veterans and millions of the elderly. Another 210,000 children will also be kicked off the free and reduced lunch programs which are also funded through this bill.

On December 28th, 1.3 million unemployed Americans will lose their unemployment benefits.  Congress left town without any intention of extending benefits. These families – many of which have seen their Food Stamps cut- will now lose what little money they have coming in.

You may ask “what does all this have to do with Christmas?” I think everything. The most callused heart will sometimes be struck by generosity to assist a needy person at Christmas. However, once the holiday has passed and the decorations are stored that generosity disappears as fast as snow on a 40 degree day. It was Elvis that sang “Why Cant Every Day Be like Christmas?” Why can’t we keep that same sense of generosity all year? I think this question haunts many of us. There are those who will adopt an angel off a Salvation Tree one day and then fight the same family over $140 in Food Stamps a month the next day.

As a nation we must ask ourselves if we are truly dedicated to helping those who can’t help themselves. A hungry child is hungry the day before and the day after Christmas. Our generosity should carry over to every other day- and if it doesn’t then it was never generosity to begin with.

In labor we strive to be an advocate every day for those in need and to improve the lives of America’s working families. That is what we are about – not just at Christmas but each and every day of the year. Members of the UAW will continue our efforts in Chattanooga, Tennessee; in Jackson, Mississippi  - anywhere we are needed until all working families can unite their voice in solidarity.

In closing I want to wish each of you and your family the merriest Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. From the Casteel household to yours, let’s make every day be like Christmas by holding peace on Earth and goodwill to all men in our hearts.

In Solidarity,

Region 8 Director Gary Casteel





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