AFL-CIO forsees victory on public option, EFCA

PITTSBURGH – Leaders of the U.S. labor movement, during interviews an hour before the 26th Convention of the AFL-CIO began its first full day of business here, expressed certainty that, before the year is out, the nation will have a new system of health insurance that includes a public option and that the Employee Free Choice Act will become the law of the land.

They also said unions are moving full steam ahead to bring millions of youth into the labor movement and that progress is being made in the effort to bring all unions back under one umbrella.

A reporter asked outgoing federation President John Sweeney about news of a decision by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to reverse himself and come out now in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act. “It’s amazing how elected officials will sometimes do things that like that, isn’t it?” Sweeney responded.

Specter is scheduled to address the full convention on this and other issues. Specter’s switch would almost certainly block attempts by Republicans to filibuster the measure.
Bill Samuels, the federation’s legislative director, has confirmed that there is a “compromise” in the works that would preserve the company’s ability to insist on an election after a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union. The compromise would require that the election be held in a matter of days, however, and any attempt by the employer to influence the results would trigger automatic recognition of the union.
Samuels says the federation’s first choice, however, is to preserve the original majority sign-up provision.

Richard Trumka told the World that he expected the opposition to lie and to spend “many millions campaigning against labor law reform, just as they did against health care reform. We will fight back and just as we are doing on the health care issue, we will focus the debate on what is important to American people – in the case of the EFCA, the right to a voice on the job.”

The federation’s leaders expressed enthusiasm about what they said are plans by the labor movement to bring millions of young people into organized labor.

Liz Shuler, who is expected to be elected by acclamation later this week to fill the position of secretary-treasurer which will be vacated by Richard Trumka when he, as expected, assumes the presidency, said she intends to make this goal the focus of her work.

“We will study all approaches to bringing in young people, including focusing on particular industries,” Shuler said. “It means being open to everything. In the communications area, for example, John Stewart is a trusted source for news by young people. Even use of traditional terms like “worker” need to be looked at. We’ve been a bit behind on all this in the labor movement and we need to reach out and collaborate more with youth organizations.”

Trumka said that labor will also push much harder in the area of regulatory reform of the finance industry. “We’re happy that the president is going to Wall Street today and that he will cajole Congress into moving in this area,” Trumka said, “because we are seeing a return on Wall Street to many of the bad habits that got them into causing the financial collapse.”

He said the new regulations have to shift the risk away from workers and toward the people making the profits and require complete transparency.
One reporter asked Trumka how he reconciles his position that labor will not back a health care reform plan that does not include a public option with what he characterized as President Obama’s “position that the public option is only one means to an end.”

“Why not take the president on his word?” Trumka responded. “The president has said he supports the public option and that it is the best way to achieve much of what has to be achieved. The president has called on anyone who has a better idea to come forward with it. No one has. We say the same thing and we don’t believe there is a better way.”

There has been controversy over the health care issue in the labor movement. Many unions support single-payer health insurance which eliminates the insurance companies altogether.
The convention is expected to pass two resolutions on health care, one in support of the president’s plan to reform the system, including the public option, and another that will put the federation on record in support of single-payer as the best plan for the longer term future.

Another reporter wanted to know what the labor movement intends to do about Blue Dog Democrats “standing in the way of the unions.”
“Let’s be clear about this,” Trumka responded.”If you’re holding up health care you’re standing in the way of the American people, not just the labor movement. If you’re holding up passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, you’re standing in the way of the American people who have the right to a voice on the job. There’s no reason to wait any longer on any of this. Health care reform and labor law reform can and must be done now.”

“Are you disappointed by the inability of the labor movement to thus far unite into one organization?” still another reporter asked. “There is no split in the labor movement at the grassroots level,” Trumka said. “There’s two kinds of unity. Unity in name only and unity of purpose in action. That is where we are more united than ever and it shows in how we were united in the movement to elect a president, how we are united now in the fight for universal health care, and how we are united now in the fight for labor law reform. We have started the talks to unite organizationally and we continue to make major progress on that front too.”




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.