Obama to AFL-CIO Council: He’s Counting on Union Movement
Posted by Mike Hall to AFL-CIO NOW
Barack Obama told the AFL-CIO Executive Council he is counting on the union movement’s largest-ever voter mobilization to play a key role in his drive to take back the White House for working families on Election Day.
Speaking via video conference at the council’s two-day meeting in Chicago this morning, Obama pledged his support for the Employee Free Choice Act, new fair trade policies that don’t reward companies for shipping jobs overseas, a major job-creating investment in rebuilding and repairing infrastucture and a new energy economy.
The Executive Council also approved statements covering collective bargaining for federal workers, the growing fiscal crisis for state and local governments, education initiatives, the recent decision by the Air Force to award a multibillion-dollar air tanker contract to a foreign-led partnership and the Bush administration’s recent made-in-secret rule on worker exposure to toxins.
Today’s session focused on the fall elections and Labor 2008, the AFL-CIO’s political mobilization to inform union voters about the issues and candidates—especially the huge differences between the pro-working family Obama and the long-time anti-worker presidential candidate John McCain.
A combination of member-to-member contact at the workplace, the front porch and on the phone—plus communication from local union leaders via mail and newsletters—is designed to move as many union family voters to the polls as possible.
The council heard about plans that put a special focus on key battleground states where union voters make up as much as 35 percent of the electorate. Those key states include Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) addressed the council today. Last night at a special reception and this morning during the meeting, council members heard from several U.S. Senate candidates who are in races to unseat long-time anti-worker incumbents, all of whom voted last year to block the Senate from voting on the Employees Free Choice Act.
The Senate hopefuls, who are working with strong labor backing and working family support in their states, are:
- Kay Hagen (D), running in North Carolina against Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), who has a 21 percent lifetime working families voting record.
- Bruce Lunsford (D), running in Kentucky to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader who has an 11 percent lifetime working families voting record.
- Jeff Merkley (D), running in Oregon against Sen. Gordon Smith (R), who has a 24 percent lifetime working families voting record.
- Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), running against Sen. John Sununu (R), who has a 10 percent lifetime working families voting record.
Rep. Tom Allen (D), who is running in Maine against Sen. Susan Collins (R) and her 34 percent lifetime working families voting record, was scheduled to appear, but fierce storms in the Chicago area snarled air traffic, and he was unable to appear.
This afternoon, the council approved a statement that addressed the growing fiscal crisis faced by state and local governments. In it, the council noted that many states, with billions of dollars in deficits because of the staggering economy, are cutting vital public services or rising taxes.
These actions not only reduce spending and investment and weaken the safety net at a time when people need more help, but contribute to further contraction of the economy.
Council members called on Congress to act to help the states by increasing federal funds for Medicaid. It also supported a package of stimulus funding for food stamp administration, child support enforcement, expanded unemployment insurance and modernization, employment services, emergency housing needs, education for at-risk and special needs children as well as higher education, and funding for infrastructure improvement and repair projects. It also called for enactment of Medicaid funding legislation now before Congress in two bills, H.R. 5628 and S. 2819.
Airport screeners, also known as Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), continue to be denied collective bargaining rights because of what the Bush administration says are “national security” concerns. The council issued a statement saying that majorities in both the House and Senate voted in 2007 to restore basic workplace rights to the 43,000 TSOs, but a Bush veto threat led to the provision being stripped from the bill. The council says:
The continuation of this systematic denial of fundamental labor and workplace rights undermines collective bargaining rights and workplace protections of all federal workers.
The AFL-CIO calls on Congress to immediately pass H.R. 3212, a bill introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) that grants TSOs the rights of other workers in DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and pledges to oppose other political attempts to use national security fears to curtail the collective bargaining rights of other federal workers.
In another statement concerning the rights of federal workers, the council called for an immediate resumption of contact talks between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). In 2006, the FAA walked away from the bargaining table and imposed new work rules that cut pay, eliminated certain rest periods and forces controllers to work overtime and six-day weeks. The deplorable work environment is behind the huge loss of experienced controllers—more than 2,500 have left the agency—and created a massive controller shortage that has put the flying public at risk.
It should be a priority of this Congress to include, on any moving piece of legislation, language that would require the FAA to return to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and submit to neutral, binding arbitration in the event of an impasse. To protect the safety of the aviation system, an overarching change must be made in order to allow all FAA bargaining units to participate in an equitable contract negotiations process.
Council members also called for a wide array of public education and training initiatives and reforms on the national, state and local levels to equip students and workers with the skills needed to compete in the rapidly changing 21st century workplace.
To meet this challenge, our nation needs a cohesive national strategy that links substantial investment in job creation to an improved educational system and significant public resources directed toward skill-development programs. Implementing that strategy will require farsighted presidential leadership; a substantial financial commitment; a new working partnership among stakeholders in labor, business, education and government; and the kind of bipartisan comity that has been absent too long from our national life. Otherwise, the future will not be kind—either to job seekers without skills or to a nation without the will to create the workforce it needs.
Earlier this year, the Air Force created an uproar when it awarded a multibillon-dollar contract for a new generation of air refueling tankers to Northrop Grumman/EADS (the European maker of Airbus) over U.S.- based Boeing Co., threatening 44,000 U.S. jobs. Following a Government Accountability Office investigation that uncovered numerous improprieties that favored EADS, the Air Force is re-bidding the contract. Says the council:
It is a sensible requirement that will help ensure the viability of our industrial base and in this instance, the high-skill, high-wage jobs associated with the aerospace industry.
The council also adopted statements:
- Condemning the Bush administration’s made-in-secret proposed rule that could expose workers to higher levels of dangerous chemicals and other toxic substances;
- Calling for additional funding for the Bureau of Prisons to provide better safety and security for the 34,000 corrections officers and workers who are being assaulted, injured and even killed at alarming rates;
- Urging the Department of Justice and other agencies to block a recent DHL/UPS agreement that threatens the jobs of some 10,000 pilots and other workers at two freight air carriers;
- Calling on Congress to pass legislation to strengthen the Social Security Administration and reverse years of Bush administration underfunding that threatens service to and benefits for seniors and people with disabilities;
- Urging Congress to end a corporate tax dodge that allows companies to count their multimillion-dollar CEO golden parachute pensions as liabilities against their workers’ pension plans.
Tags: Barack Obama , John McCain , 2008 Presidential Electio , AFL-CIO , Unions , Workers
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