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G-20 Labor Leaders Meet at AFL-CIO for Labor Summit

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When the world’s banks were going under, governments jumped to their aid. Now with record numbers of people out of work, it’s past time for governments to put working people first, or the fledgling economic recovery could fall apart. Leaders from the G-20 nations issued this warning while in Washington, D.C., this week for the first-ever meeting of G-20 labor ministers and employment ministers with labor and business leaders April 20-21.

The meeting stems from the efforts by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last September to make jobs the central element in any global economic recovery. The G-20 includes the leaders of the world’s top 19 economies and the European Union.

During their meetings at the AFL-CIO before the labor ministers’ summit, the union leaders again strongly urged their governments to support the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Global Jobs Pact, which includes comprehensive measures to stimulate employment growth and provide basic protections for workers and their families.

Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), told the ministers:

Governments must show the same political will to attack global unemployment and underemployment as they did to tackle the banking crisis in late 2008. We cannot afford a lost decade of stagnant labor markets.

Trumka made it clear that if the jobs of the future are to be good, family supporting jobs, workers in all nations must have the fundamental right to form unions and bargain collectively:

In the U.S, tens of thousands of workers are fired every year for attempting to form unions. For example, there can be no excuse for T-Mobile, the U.S. telecommunications company, to viciously oppose unions in the U.S. while its corporate parent, Deutsche Telekom supports bargaining rights and unions throughout Europe. Unless workers’ rights are enforced in all countries, there will be a “race to the bottom” in wages and working conditions, a race that will undermine decent work everywhere.

For more information on the ongoing campaign to bring justice to T-Mobile, click here and here.

The union leaders also insisted that governments not reduce stimulus efforts until employment rates return to pre-crisis levels on a sustainable basis, and called for an equitable sharing of the cost of the recovery costs through more progressive tax systems, including the adoption of a financial transactions tax, actions the AFL-CIO strongly backs.

ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder said:

We must halt the continuing rise in unemployment and create new jobs.  Furthermore, there needs to be an ongoing role for labor ministers within the G-20 in order to address the employment impact of the crisis with effective measures to help all workers, including the most vulnerable.

John Evans, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), added:

Increasing economic inequality over two decades helped cause this crisis. Fairer income distribution and restoring real purchasing power to working people is essential for sustainable economic growth in the future.

Check out the detailed proposals presented by the union delegation here. Read the ITUC/TUAC evaluation of the meeting’s outcomes here.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on April 22, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris


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The Working Class Has Spoken. Will Democrats Listen?

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Massachusetts voters sent a strong signal to Washington lawmakers Tuesday that they want results—and aren’t seeing any. Not on health care reform, not on job creation and not on fixing the nation’s economy.

Voters also sent another powerful message for Democrats: Ignore the working class at your peril.

Some 79 percent of voters polled on election night said the most important issue for them was electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more jobs. Controlling health care costs was next on their list, with 54 percent citing that issue as the main determinant of their vote.

The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates among 810 voters for the AFL-CIO on the night of the election, also found that although voters without a college degree favored Barack Obama by 21 percentage points in the 2008 election, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley lost that same group by a 20-point margin.

And as AFL-CIO Richard Trumka has pointed out, Massachusetts voters have the same goals for reforming health care, creating good jobs and strengthening the economy as they did in November 2008—but President Obama and the Democrats have done too little:

“Voters showed they don’t think Democrats have overreached—they think that the Democrats underreached.”

In fact, voters were not worried about Democratic “overreach”—47 percent said their bigger concern about Democrats is that they haven’t succeeded in making needed change rather than tried to make too many changes too quickly (32 percent). Even voters for Scott Brown were more concerned about a lack of change (50 percent) than about trying to make too many changes too quickly (43 percent).

These results puts a lie to the corporate media spin that Democrats have gone “too far” in pushing a reform agenda.

Nor was the election result about health care reform. Brown actually lost among the 59 percent of voters who picked health care as one of their top two voting issues (50 percent for Coakley and 46 percent for Brown). Voters for Brown (55 percent ) were less likely to cite health care as a top issue than were voters for Coakley (66 percent).

The election also should be a wake-up call for those in Washington who support taxing working families’ health care. Voters who thought their health care would be taxed voted by 64 percent for Brown, while those who did not think their health care would be taxed voted by 54 percent to 40 percent for Coakley.

Our polling results show the election was not an endorsement of a Republican agenda or a call to abandon health care reform. Voters strongly disapprove of the job being done by congressional Republicans (26 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove), a much lower rating than they give to congressional Democrats (37 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove).

Other polls show the need for Democrats in Congress to take immediate action to create jobs, reform health care, stop catering to Wall Street and address the needs of America’s working class. As John Judis wrote, the election showed Democrats have lost ground primarily among white working and middle-class voters and senior citizens.

The Suffolk University poll in Massachusetts…singled out two white working-class towns, Gardner and Fitchburg, as bellwethers. Obama won Gardner, where Democrats hold a 3-1 registrations edge, by 59 percent to 31 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 56 percent to 42 percent. Obama won Fitchburg, with a similar Democratic edge, by 60 percent to 38 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 59 percent to 40 percent. That suggests a fairly dramatic shift among white working-class voters.

Summarizing the findings from election night polling conducted by Research 2000 Massachusetts Poll, MoveOn.org said the results show voters worry that Democrats in power “have not done enough to combat the policies of the Bush era.”

Both sets of voters wanted stronger, more progressive action on health care reform as well. In summary, the poll shows that the party who fights corporate interests—especially on making the economy work for most Americans—will win the confidence of the voters.

The working class has spoken. Will Democrats listen?

*This post was crossposted from the AFL-CIO blog on January 21, 2010. Reprinted with permission.


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Hotel Workers, Trumka Arrested at Sit-In for Fair Contract

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Image: Mike HallMore than 100 union members, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and UNITEHERE! President John Wilhelm were arrested at a sit-in demanding justice and a fair contract for San Francisco hotel workers last night. The workers have been without a contract since August.

The sit-in in front of the Hilton San Francisco followed a march by nearly 1,000 members of UNITEHERE! Local 2, other union members and community and political supporters. Says Ingrid Carp, a cook for 29 years at the Hilton:

“We’re determined as ever to win a good contract. It’s wrong for corporations to position themselves to make billions with the coming economic recovery, and expect us to go backward.”

UNITEHERE! President John Wilhelm (left) and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were among the 140 arrested at a San Francisco hotel sit-in for justice.
UNITEHERE! President John Wilhelm (left) and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were among the 140 arrested at a San Francisco hotel sit-in for justice.

At the rally before the march, Trumka told crowd:

“A job is a good job because working people fight to make it one. It doesn’t matter if the job is in a coal mine or a hotel, a classroom or a car wash.

“That’s why the struggle of hotel workers here in San Francisco and across our country is so important.  If we don’t protect the wages and benefits and health care of hotel workers no job is safe, no worker is safe no family is safe.”

Tomorrow, Trumka will join workers for a rally and picket in front of the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. Along with the demand for justice for hotel workers, Trumka is in California this week to spotlight the need for job creation. We’ll have more on that later today.

The action is part of a campaign to win fair contracts at several national hotel chains, including Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood. The profitable chains are using the recession as an excuse to demand health care benefit cuts in contract talks with more than 16,000 workers at dozens of hotels in San Francisco, Chicago and other cities.

*This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on January 6, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.


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Showdown in Chicago: Thousands Protest Bankers

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Image: Seth MichalsMore than 5,000 people are packing the streets of downtown Chicago this morning, chanting, marching and rallying against Big Bankers and financial institutions that have taken taxpayer money and are using it to give big bonuses to CEOs and to lobby against financial reforms that would ensure they don’t go back on the public dole.

The crowd is marching to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, site of the American Bankers Association meeting, to protest the banking industry’s greed and irresponsibility that crippled our economy, leaving millions of workers behind.

Photo by SEIU
Photo by SEIU

After the house of cards they built collapsed, bankers and the financial industry took $700 billion in taxpayer funds for a bailout. But rather than reform their failed practices, they want to go back to business as usual—with the chance of again precipitating another financial collapse and need for taxpayer bailout in coming years.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who is joining union members and allies at today’s events, has a clear message to bankers: You work for us.

Business as usual is over. We are shutting it down. You work for us—not the other way around. Your job is to be stewards of our savings, to put and keep working families in homes, to lend the money companies need to create jobs. And you have failed. You’ve turned the American economy into your own private casino, gambling away our financial future with our money, and driving us to the brink of a second Great Depression—then sticking out your hand for taxpayers to bail you out.

Praising Barack Obama’s administration for trying to stop the out-of-control bonuses paid to executives at bailed-out banks, Trumka says we need to go further by setting tough new rules so that the financial industry can’t run our economy into the ground again.

Trumka calls for four key principles to be part of any financial reform:

  • A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to monitor banks and credit card companies and prevent abuses.
  • Reform the Federal Reserve Board or create an agency capable of stopping systemic risk.
  • More transparency so that hedge funds, derivatives and private equity markets can have real oversight.
  • Reform of corporate governance and executive compensation to make the finance industry work on behalf of the real economy, not vice versa.

This shouldn’t be a moment, Trumka says, where we pretend we can go back to the old broken economy that benefited only a few at the expense of everyone else.

Our economy has been all but destroyed. We have to build a whole new one, based on good jobs, not on bad debt; with America investing in and exporting technology and world-class products, not financial crisis; where hard work is rewarded, not colossal failure; where workers have a real voice because they have the freedom to have a union if they want one; and where all of us have the health care we need.

Appearing on the local Fox affiliate this morning, Trumka said it’s an outrage the financial industry took billions in taxpayer dollars, yet uses its resources to lobby against regulations to prevent a crisis like this from happening again:

The bankers who took all the risk and now are doing everything that they can to block reform so that it doesn’t happen again. Now that’s the problem. They want to do the same things over and over again, and they want us to pay the price again.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on October 27, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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Reid: Public Option Will Be in Health Care Bill

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced in a Capitol Hill press conference today that he will send a health care reform bill to the Senate floor that includes a public option. States will have until 2014 to decide if they want to participate in the public plan.

Reid said he was optimistic that health care reform will pass:

“I feel good about progress we have made within our caucus and with the White House, and we are all optimistic about reform because of the unprecedented momentum that exists.

“I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system. It will protect consumers, keep insurers honest and ensure competition. And that’s why we intend to include it on the bill that will be submitted to the Senate for consideration.”

In a telephone press conference this morning, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said any real health care reform bill must include a robust public option that helps lower premiums and keeps insurance companies honest by guaranteeing competition.

Real reform also must require employers to pay their fair share by providing health coverage or contributing to help pay for subsidies, Trumka said. Real reform should ensure that working families who already are struggling to pay for health care insurance are not asked to pay even more in the form of a new  excise tax on their coverage, he added.

There are still things that still need to be fixed in the Senate bill, according to the Health Care for America Now (HCAN) coalition, but Reid deserves thanks for including a public option. Click here to add your name to an HCAN the petition thanking Reid for fighting for America.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on October 26, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.


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The Chamber of Commerce’s Jobs Deception Campaign

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Unions are popularly known as “the folks who brought you the weekend.” In contrast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the distinction of trying to take away the weekend–along with overtime pay, the minimum wage, Buy America rules, workers’ freedom to form unions, child labor standards….The list is long and ugly.

So it’s farcical that today the Chamber launched a campaign estimated to run in the tens of millions of dollars to promote job creation.

The Chamber’s campaign originally started out as an attack against financial regulation–until the Chamber found out how strongly U.S. taxpayers support reining in Big Banks and the financial industry’s widespread shady practices. So the Chamber conveniently changed the packaging to purportedly focus on jobs, which in fact the American people desperately need.

Look at who accompanied the Chamber suits while they were announcing their Orweillian-named “free enterprise campaign.” As Sam Stein reported here:

Many of the individuals featured on Wednesday are long-standing donors to Republican candidates and groups that have fought efforts to enhance regulation. And, in one case, the business leader appearing alongside [Thomas] Donohue to decry the interference of government in the market place received business through the benefit of government contracts.

Yet, while millions of America’s workers struggle to find jobs in an economy where there are more than six workers searching for every one job, the Chamber repeatedly opposed extending unemployment insurance. Can’t have government interference in the marketplace, after all. Or aid to jobless workers. The same workers the Chamber’s smoke-and-mirrors campaign is supposed to be all about.

The Chamber also is joining with Big Banks and financial giants to try and kill a proposed agency that would protect U.S. consumers from being preyed upon by unscrupulous banks, mortgage lenders and many of the same financial institutions that helped create our nation’s economic disaster. The Obama administration’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which this week is being considered in the House Financial Services Committee, would regulate products such as credit cards and home loans, while ensuring the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversaw the $450 trillion “derivatives” market that sunk the world economy.

The Chamber is spending $2 million in attack ads, claiming that the new agency would hamstring even your local butcher from extending you credit for a week. It’s the same sorry effort at deception and outright lies that the health insurance industry now is trying to pull in the debate over health care reform. Tell enough lies and hope someone believes you.

As President Obama said in response to the Chamber’s distortion:

“We’ve made clear that only businesses that offer financial services would be affected by this agency. I don’t know how many of your butchers are offering financial services,” Obama said to laughter.

The Chamber is so twisted up in deception it seems unable to even provide accurate membership numbers. Writing in Mother Jones this week, David Corn points to a big discrepancy between the Chamber’s public membership numbers and reality.

In testimony before Congress, statements to the press, and on its website, the Chamber claims to represent “3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” In reality, the number is probably closer to 200,000.

Not sure if the 200,000 includes Apple Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric and the other giant corporations that recently have pulled their membership from the Chamber because of its draconian stand on climate change.

The Chamber’s so-called “free enterprise” campaign has been tried before. After World War II, the National Association of Manufacturers led a similar such effort. That campaign to sell capitalism to U.S. consumers incurred the derision of no less than the editors of Fortune magazine, who found similar sentiments among business executives represented on the boards of the business associations that supposedly represented them.

In dismissing the campaign as ludicrous, one such executive described it this way:

The best way we can demonstrate the importance of Free Enterprise is to make it work.

It’s clearly not working now. And although the Chamber may try to wrap itself in the shiny trappings of a feel-good campaign, its repeated attacks on consumers and workers demonstrate who the Chamber stands for: Wall Street not Main Street.

This post originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on October 15, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka was elected AFL-CIO president in September 2009. He served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995. Born in Nemacolin, Pa., on July 24, 1949, Trumka was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1989. At the time of his election to the secretary-treasurer post, he was serving his third term as president of the Mine Workers (UMWA). At the UMWA, Trumka led two major strikes against the Pittston Coal Co. and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. The actions resulted in significant advances in employee-employer cooperation and the enhancement of mine workers’ job security, pensions and benefits.


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