Labor's Voice for Change (53) July 16, 2009

Will Candidate Trumka Finally Speak Up,
After 14 Years as Sweeney’s Shadow?

By Harry Kelber

How should union members view Richard Trumka’s announcement early this week that he wants to be President of the AFL-CIO? First of all, we should look at his record during the 14 years he served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. Second, we should hear his current views about the serious problems facing unions and America’s working people.

There are four disturbing features about “Rich” Trumka’s 14-year tenure as AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s second in command:

• When the Sweeney-Trumka “Unity” team took office in 1995, union membership stood at 14.9 percent. Today, the figure is 12.4 percent. What efforts did they make to reverse the decline?

• Trumka’s prime job as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer was to maintain the integrity and solvency of the Federation’s finances. Yet, the net assets of the AFL-CIO dropped from $66 million in 2000 to negative $2.3 in June 2008. How does he answer to the charges of wasteful spending and negligence?

• How does Trumka justify getting a 44 percent increase ($74,000) in four years (2005-2009) on top of his official $165,000 salary?

• What did Trumka mean when he said in an interview that he served as Sweeney’s “soldier” in the 14 years he was on the AFL-CIO payroll? What did he do in those years? What did he accomplish?

Sweeney is retiring in September at the AFL-CIO convention, so Trumka is free to express his own views about how to rebuild the labor movement.

Let’s Hear What Trumka Has to Say on Issues That Matter

Here are several questions that we’re asking Trumka to respond to, so we can get some clues about how he would act as AFL-CIO President:

• Do you have a program for rebuilding the AFL-CIO? If you do, will you describe it as specifically as you can?

• The AFL-CIO is in serious financial difficulty and is operating at a deficit. What steps would you take to restore the Federation’s former solvency?

• Do you see any need for reforms within the AFL-CIO? If you do, which problems would you select, and how would you go about solving them? The economic crisis continues for millions of workers who have lost their jobs and homes. What policies will you recommend—and fight for—to create jobs for the unemployed?

• How would you promote manufacturing industries? How would you fight outsourcing, that has resulted in the exodus of hundreds of thousands of good-paying American jobs?

• What steps would you take to build alliances with unions and workers around the world for our mutual protection against powerful multinational corporations?

* * * * *

In this AFL-CIO election, Richard Trumka has to choose between two alternatives. He can continue to be beholden to a small but powerful group of international union presidents who guaranteed him his top job in three successive elections, or he can strive to be an inspiring leader of the labor movement.

Which path will Trumka choose? We will begin to see it in how he deals with our questions.—Harry Kelber

Article 54 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Tuesday, July 21.