Union leaders map post-election plans

WASHINGTON – Fresh off of a consequential U.S. election that saw union members vote by a 2-to-1 margin to reelect Democratic President Barack Obama and expand a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, union leaders started planning future legislative priorities for the labor movement.

But before they could even think about next year and beyond, they had to deal with an immediate problem, sure to be discussed at the AFL-CIO Executive Council’s post-election meeting ihere on Nov. 9: What to do about the “lame duck” session of the 112th Congress and the nation’s “fiscal cliff” that lawmakers are supposed to avoid.

“Starting tomorrow – Yes, I said tomorrow! – working families will be more out in communities at close to 100 events to talk to members of Congress about the coming lame duck session and fiscal showdown,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared on Nov. 7. 

“We will send the message that it’s time to say ‘no’ to benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and ‘yes’ to fair taxes on America’s wealthiest 2%.  It’s time to rebuild America’s middle class, not tear it down.”

If Congress does nothing, a mix of tax hikes – on workers and on the rich – and billions of dollars of cuts in domestic and defense programs are scheduled to kick in starting on Jan. 1.  They include restoration of the full payroll tax needed to fund Social Security and Medicare, taking dollars from workers’ present paychecks.

The economic jolt could be so huge that analysts of all political stripes contend it would throw the U.S. back into recession.  Labor agrees.  It’s pushing to raise taxes on the rich and to create jobs, especially in manufacturing and infrastructure, Trumka said.

And “it is time for our nation to move forward and continue the fight for economic and social justice for all Americans,” Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley said in a statement.

But beyond that immediate problem of the fiscal cliff, union leaders say labor has other priorities down the road.  Some of them are:

*Trumka said “labor law reform,” type unspecified, will always be the union movement’s #1 priority. 

“Reforming our broken labor law is a key component of fixing and strengthening the middle class,” he said.  “When workers get money in their pockets” through collective bargaining, “it strengthens them and the economy.”

*AFT President Randi Weingarten and Service Employees Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina each placed comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legal residence – and labor law protection – for undocumented workers high on next year’s “to do” list.  So did Obama, in an interview with the editors of the Des Moines Register, even before he beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney by 70%-26% among Latino voters, who were a record 11%-plus of the electorate.

“Millions of Latino voters flexed their political muscle to push Obama over the top in key battleground states.  Latinos proved we are a national political force and growing stronger with each election cycle,” Medina said…We said, ‘Yes!’ to comprehensive immigration reform.  And we said, ‘No!’ to scapegoating of immigrants and communities of color.  This election proved comprehensive immigration reform is not the third rail of politics…Obama’s strong commitment to immigration reform solidified his support from the Latino community and won the votes of independents who want a pragmatic fix.”

There was a vow from Medina, too: “We expect passage of comprehensive immigration reform next year.  We don’t want promises; we don’t want debates. We expect action.  If Congress keeps erecting roadblocks in 2013, we will look elsewhere for leaders in the 2014 elections.  The proof is tonight’s presidential election results.”

*AFGE’s Cox expects Obama to propose a pay raise – the first several years – for federal workers.  And he sent lawmakers a message to stop forcing feds to hand over ever-increasing shares of their pay to fund future pensions, just to lower the amount of federal red ink.   Federal pension funds are overfunded and flush with cash.  “We’re not your ATM,” Cox warned Congress.

Photo: The Employee Free Choice Act, filibustered by Republicans, would have greatly improved labor rights. Via Flickr



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.