Labor's Voice for Change (52) July 14, 2009

Since 2005, Sweeney, Trumka and Holt-Baker
Have Boosted Their Basic Salary by $70,000+

By Harry Kelber

John Sweeney will retire as AFL-CIO president with a “silver parachute” of $163,350 a year for llfe, which is 60 percent of his current salary of $272,250.

Actually, his salary in 2005 was $192,500, written into the AFL-CIO Constitution, but with the help of an obliging Executive Council, he increased his salary in four years by close to $80.000 during a period when wages for union members were stagnant, and hundreds of thousands of workers were losing their homes and their jobs.

The Constitution is very generous to the AFL-CIO’s three executive officers, offering them an annual pension equal to 60 percent of their top salary, and a 30 percent annual payment for life to their spouses in the event they die.

Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, whose salary increased in the last four years by close to $74,000—from $165.000 to $238,975—will also get an AFL-CIO pension, equal to 60 percent of his top pay. Arlene Holt-Baker, AFL-CIO’s executive vice president, who has held that position for less than two years, will get the same generous salary and pension deal as Trumka’s.

To put it another way, in those four years (2005-2009), Sweeney boosted his salary by a hefty 30 percent, while Trumka increased his by a whopping 44 percent! It’s outrageous, especially since the AFL-CIO is operating at a serious financial deficit. But the trio have no shame: they are not giving up a dime of their six-figure salaries, which are protected by clauses in the AFL-CIO Constitution.

Like corporate CEOs, our three AFL-CIO executives get their salaries and expensive perks, whether they perform well or poorly. It is hard to justify their bloated salaries on the basis of their performance as national labor leaders. Union membership continues to decline; Recruiting new members has been at a virtual standstill the past two years; There’s been an increase in concession bargaining; lots of wasteful spending at AFL-CIO’s national headquarters, and not a major legislative victory.

Can you think of anything that Sweeney and Trumka have done for America’s working families in their 14 years in office? Is there anyone who can truthfully say that the Sweeney-Trumka team has earned the salary and 60 percent pensions they have so eagerly accepted?

Officers’ Pay Must Be Negotiated, Not Fixed by Constitution

The problem of salaries for the AFL-CIO’s top three officers can be resolved in an equitable manner by eliminating all references to this subject by an amendment to the AFL-CIO Constitution. A committee of members of the Executive Council can then meet with the officers to work out a fair agreement based on the experience of these leaders, the financial condition and size of the organization, the nature of their responsibilities and a number of other factors. If adjustments in salaries have to be made, they should be handled by the Executive Council.

* * * * *

The best labor leaders I have known chose to work in the labor movement, not as a career for fame and fortune, but as a calling. They accepted hardship and worked long hours with little pay, because they were motivated to help workers who were being exploited by greedy employers. In the 1930s, their lifestyle was not much different from that of the workers they were trying to organize. Today, men like Sweeney and Trumka don’t identify with working people, except when they are called upon to make a speech at a meeting or rally.

Fortunately, there is a new breed of young idealists in the labor movement, who are gaining knowledge and experience in local struggles. They are our hope for the future.

If I am elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, I shall use whatever skills I have to educate young workers to the true meaning of unionism.—Harry Kelber

Article 53 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, July 16.