An Ethiopian-born labor leader takes stock of his movement, Trump, the immigration crisis and police reform.
Earlier this month our team from Jobs to Move America (JMA) attended the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Annual Meeting in San Francisco. We were there to learn the latest in transit trends, from sustainability planning to high-speed rail. We were also an outspoken advocate on behalf of American labor and taxpayers amongst 1,500 attendees. Unfortunately, even with the presence of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), domestic labor was largely left out of the conversation, since most participants were public transit officials, manufacturing company representatives, and private sector consultants focused on stretching the dollar.
Despite this bottom-line focused crowd, we were encouraged by the plenary session’s appearance of DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. He argued that with the right configuration, transportation can connect workers to sustainable jobs and living wages, and transportation as an industry can also generate employment opportunities for disadvantaged Americans seeking second chances.
Day Three of the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles kicked off yesterday with an address by newly minted U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.
The Labor Secretary energized delegates by affirming the Obama administration’s support for a strong labor movement, praising the AFL-CIO’s efforts on comprehensive immigration reform and by pledging his department’s commitment to aggressively enforcing existing workplace laws.
Perez singled out the administration’s recently proposed rule to limit exposure to deadly silica dust in the workplace, saying that “it is a false choice to suggest that we can have job creation or job safety, but not both.”
He called raising the minimum wage “a moral imperative,” but admitted that despite 42 straight months of private sector job growth, job recovery overall remained disappointing, particularly for public-sector workers. “This is the first economic recovery in American history,” Perez noted, “in which government jobs haven’t come back.”
Perez’s presence marked the highest-level appearance at this convention by the Obama administration after the President last week canceled his own plans to attend the gathering,
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren opened the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles yesterday with a stirring tribute to the legacy of organized labor and a call to arms for the country’s progressive cause.
Speaking before about 5,000 cheering delegates at the L.A. Convention Center, Warren rolled out a list of issues near to labor’s heart. These included a raise in the minimum wage, tougher policing of Wall Street and government investment in infrastructure, jobs and education. She also called for transparency in the Obama administration’s ongoing secret negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
She reserved some of her harshest words for what she called “the increasing corporate capture of the federal courts” and charged that Supreme Court Justices Alito and Roberts topped the list of the most pro-corporate and anti-consumer justices of the past 50 years.
The remarks were in sync with those of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka,
Union leaders and activists from around the country, in Los Angeles September 8 for the AFL-CIO Convention, will get a close look at a regional labor movement with membership numbers holding steady or even slightly increasing.
Compare this with much of the U.S., where the percentage of workers represented by unions is dropping rapidly and persistently.
L.A., more than most cities (and California, more than most states) has stayed a step ahead of an employer class determined to cleanse the global economy of collective worker power.
Credit Los Angeles and statewide unions for building tightly run coalitions with immigrant-rights and economic-justice groups; their brassy leadership and an electoral strategy which has – so far, at least – beaten back anti-union measures like Proposition 32.
AFL-CIO delegates from the de-industrialized Midwest, by contrast, have been facing relentless attacks from Republican governors and legislatures fronting right-to-work drives and laws restricting public employee bargaining rights.
The agreement passed last night is a breakthrough in beginning to restore tax fairness and achieves some key goals of working families. It does not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. It raises more than $700 billion over 10 years, including interest savings, by ending the Bush income tax cuts for families making more than $450,000 a year. And in recognition of the continuing jobs crisis, it extends unemployment benefits for a year. A strong message from voters and a relentless echo from grassroots activists over the last six weeks helped get us this far.
But lawmakers should have listened even better. The deal extends the Bush tax cuts for families earning between $250,000 and $450,000 a year and makes permanent Bush estate tax cuts exempting estates valued up to $5 million from any tax. These concessions amount to over $200 billion in additional tax cuts for the 2 percent.
Analysis of swing-state voting in last week’s election demonstrates that the massive on-the-ground mobilization of union members and volunteers directly aided Obama and other pro-labor candidates in carrying Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin. Unions prevailed in beating back anti-labor legislation in California and Wisconsin, and succeeded in three separate living wage campaigns.
On the national level, will labor remain vigilant and hold Obama and other newly elected Democrats accountable to workers? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka vows that this will be the case.
In an interview with Salon, Trumka is quoted as saying:
“One thing that we’re doing different than we’ve ever done before … is we’re not dismantling our program today.” Instead, he promised, it will move “from electoral politics to advocacy, and from advocacy to accountability.”
As an example of the continuing momentum for labor advocates, Trumka points to Ohio, where “AFL-CIO members are 83 percent white.