Head of AFL-CIO explains, “Why I Quit Trump’s Business Council”

From the New York Times “Opinion” Section, August 16, 2017 by Richard Trumka:

On Tuesday, President Trump stood in the lobby of his tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and again made excuses for bigotry and terrorism, effectively repudiating the remarks his staff wrote a day earlier in response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. I stood in that same lobby in January, fresh off a meeting with the new president-elect. Although I had endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, I was hopeful we could work together to bring some of his pro-worker campaign promises to fruition.

Unfortunately, with each passing day, it has become clear that President Trump has no intention of following through on his commitments to working people. More worrisome, his actions and rhetoric threaten to leave America worse off and more divided. It is for these reasons that I resigned yesterday from the president’s manufacturing council, which the president disbanded today after a string of resignations.

To be clear, the council never lived up to its potential for delivering policies that lift up working families. In fact, we were never called to a single official meeting, even though it comprised some of the world’s top business and labor leaders. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. joined to bring the voices of working people to the table and advocate the manufacturing initiatives our country desperately needs. But the only thing the council ever manufactured was letterhead. In the end, it was just another broken promise.

During my January meeting with President Trump, we identified a few important areas where compromise seemed possible. On manufacturing, infrastructure and especially trade, we were generally in agreement. Mr. Trump spoke of $1 trillion to rebuild our schools, roads and bridges. He challenged companies to keep jobs in the United States. He promoted “Buy America.” He promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Here’s the thing: Working men and women have been promised the moon by politicians. Year after year. Campaign after campaign. Republican and Democrat. Too often, those promises have ended up being hollow; election year sound bites are often discarded as quickly as they are made. I told President Trump that this time must be different. I made clear that we would judge his administration on its actions.

Nearly seven months in, the facts speak for themselves.

President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill is nowhere to be found. And according to an analysis from the University of Pennsylvania, even if Mr. Trump did bring such a plan forward, his own budget proposal would wipe it out, leading to a net loss of $55 billion for highways, water facilities and public transit. President Trump has also remained silent on the future of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires contractors on federally assisted construction projects to pay their employees at rates prevailing in the communities where they perform the work.

What about Nafta? First, President Trump promised that the United States would withdraw. Then his administration sent a letter to Congress indicating the treaty needed only minor tweaks. Now renegotiation is underway with no clear principles for reform or negotiating goals in sight. Meanwhile, Nafta remains firmly in place.

Although President Trump has promised to protect the social safety net, his budget would slash $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, $59 billion from Medicare and up to $64 billion from Social Security over 10 years. It would strip funding for workplace safety research by 40 percent, even though about 150 workers die each day from hazardous working conditions. And it would force the people who make our government work to endure a 6 percent pay cut.

President Trump championed the Republican plan to gut health care and raise taxes on working people to line the pockets of the rich. And his executive orders that deport aspiring Americans and impose a religious litmus test for refugees are both morally bankrupt and bad economic policy.

Finally, rather than “draining the swamp,” President Trump has filled his cabinet with the authors and beneficiaries of our broken economic rules. He has elevated an anti-worker judge to the Supreme Court and appointed union-busting lawyers to the National Labor Relations Board.

His response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was the last straw. We in the labor community refuse to normalize bigotry and hatred. And we cannot in good conscience extend a hand of cooperation to those who condone it.

In some ways, President Trump presented himself as a different kind of politician, someone who could cut through the gridlock in Washington and win a better deal for American workers. But his record is a combination of broken promises, outright attacks and dangerous, divisive rhetoric. That’s why we opposed him in the campaign. And that’s why he is losing the support of our members each and every day.

Labor meeting stresses immigration reform, reaches out to non-unions

At one of the largest annual gatherings of union workers nationwide, overtures are being made  to reform the labor movement by forming official alliances with non-union progressive causes including that of immigration and the environment. Sunday in Los Angeles the AFL-CIO kicked off its largest annual convention of union members, and called on unions across America to innovate by expanding membership to include non-union members or risk losing more ground.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said of the call for reforming union membership and alliances:  “”We have to create an economic, political and legislative climate where our members can succeed. Our opposition is well-financed and determined.…We’re too small to do it alone.”

The AFL-CIO is a 12-million-member that will now be aligning itself with progressive groups such as the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and the National Council of La Raza to strengthen political voices of the left. This will help consolidate the myriad viewpoints that are represented within the Democratic Party while drawing attention to some basic problems with American society that must be addressed, including declining unions, stagnating wages, high unemployment, and contingent work.

Union membership in the U.S. has slipped to 11%, from 35% in the 1950s, and currently sits at historic low point.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke yesterday to workers gathered at the annual convention, citing the need for expanding union membership, enforcing labor laws, and reforming immigration, an increasingly difficult problem to reconcile with American workers’ interests in protecting their jobs.

“Nobody who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty,” he told union leaders. “As we work together, we will build a better America. As we work together we will bring the middle class to thrive again. As we work together, we will make sure that everybody has the ladder of opportunity to climb.”

Detroit bankruptcy highlights unfair treatment for America’s workers

Labor leaders from the AFL-CIO called on President Obama and Gov. Rick Snyder to provide financial help to the struggling city of Detroit. The city filed for bankruptcy last week under the cloud of an $18 billion budget deficit, and Gov. Snyder assigned an emergency manager to oversee to austerity measures that call for the reduction of city workers’ wages, health plans, and pensions.

The move to cut the wages and benefits of city workers comes on the heels of a controversial law passed last year in Michigan that curbs collective bargaining powers of public unions. The law was proposed and pushed through a Republican-controlled legislature by Snyder, who then survived a close recall election from Michigan’s traditionally pro-union voters. Similar measures also passed in Wisconsin, despite major opposition among populist Democrats and voters, but failed to pass in Ohio, where voters rejected the attempt to gut the power of public unions in response to the Great Recession.

The move in Michigan highlights President Obama’s failure to address the lopsided treatment of workers and bankers in the panicked climate of austerity measures, and signals that politicians are no longer capable of representing the real economic interests of the majority of their constituents.

Lee Saunders, the chair of the AFL-CIO said, “There is no question there’s a crisis in Detroit, but impoverishing the city’s public service workers and further decimating public services is not the solution. The whole country is watching how this crisis gets resolved. As the nation emerges from the worst of the Great Recession, it is time for Congress and the White House to make it clear they will not turn their backs on our urban centers.”

The contradiction in treatment between middle class Americans and powerful institutions like banks is becoming more apparent as the former are asked to make financial and political sacrifices while the latter are rewarded for their bad behavior with bailouts. On the one hand, the city of Detroit has long been plagued by political corruption and lax oversight, which has contributed to its massive financial problems. On the other hand, the main reason why there is so much corruption is because the city has suffered through several episodes of recession, corporate flight, and declining revenues. The accumulative effect is a dense urban center that still needs to provide services with a jobless shrinking tax base to do it with.

The historical fact is that Detroit’s decimation lies squarely at the feet of American auto corporations in the 1980’s, as well as their response to the 2008 financial collapse. They failed to find workable solutions to financial woes shared by all, choosing instead the easy but short-sighted route of laying off thousands of workers that led to further unraveling of the city’s economic fabric. Despite the ballyhoo of “creative destruction” that is unleashed by predatory capitalism these jobs usually don’t come back and when they do they pay less and provide less secure working conditions.

As Michael Moore so eloquently put it in his classic documentary Roger and Me, about the destruction of American auto manufacturing:  “As we neared the end of the twentieth century, the rich were richer, the poor, poorer. And people everywhere now had a lot less lint, thanks to the lint rollers made in my hometown. It was truly the dawn of a new era.”

The future of America is here folks, and it is ugly, short-sighted, and deeply, radically unfair to American workers in both the public and private sectors.