Labor's Voice for Change (54) July 21, 2009

Why Tom Buffenbarger Is Best Qualified
To Be Elected President of the AFL-CIO

By Harry Kelber

Tom Buffenbarger is the hands-on president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who, for the past 13 years, has led a union of 700,000 active and retired members. With a well-organized staff, Tom has the ultimate responsibility for more than 5,000 contracts in aerospace, transportation, shipbuilding and defense-related industries.

His proven skill as the leader of a major international union is only one of many reasons why Labor’s Voice for Change has decided to endorse Tom Buffenbarger as President of the AFL-CIO, and work for his election at the Federation’s 2009 convention.

Tom is a refreshing change from Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, who has announced he’d like to be the Federation’s next president, but who has done virtually nothing of significance in the 14 years he’s been the AFL-CIO’s No. 2 leader.

On June 2-3, Buffenbarger, on his own initiative, called a meeting, attended by 23 international unions, representing three fifths of the entire AFL-CIO membership, who were “fed up” with how the Sweeney-Trumka administration was running the Federation. The meeting focused on the systemic changes that could strengthen the AFL-CIO’s finances and increase its political clout. “ We discussed a range of changes needed to modernize and upgrade existing capabilities,” Buffenbarger explained.

Will Trumka Explain Why the AFL-CIO Is In Financial Trouble?

The participants were especially upset that under Trumka, the net assets of the AFL-CIO had dropped from $66 million in 2000 to negative 2.3 million by June 2008. Buffenbarger has put forward a plan to give affiliated unions some authority over the AFL-CIO’s finances. To discourage wasteful and excessive spending, he is calling for new financial controls “to increase transparency and accountability.”

Tom also received agreement that a number of structural changes were needed to make the AFL-CIO function more efficiently. He said that these changes, in the form of resolutions and constitutional amendments, will be introduced at the convention in September.

Trumka sees no need for any changes within the AFL-CIO. He never suggested any in the 14 years he was secretary-treasurer. He likes the AFL-CIO just as it is. And why not? He gets a handsome salary, with hefty pay increases. Like a corporate CEO, he gets the same salary, even if he performs poorly.

“Rich,” as his buddies call him, has hardly any contact with the rank-and-file, because he doesn’t need their votes to get elected. He caters to leaders of the big unions, who have the convention votes to elect him--just as they did in the past three elections and plan to do so again at the AFL-CIO convention.

In contrast to Trumka’s lack of ideas about the economic crisis, Buffenbarger has developed an industrial policy that includes making credit available to smaller companies, offering investment credits, renovating older plants and giving laid off workers an opportunity to upgrade their skills. He said: “We intend to push for a second economic stimulus, one aimed at the manufacturing and transportation sectors.”

Under Buffenbarger’s leadership, the Machinists have launched a JOBS Now! campaign to rebuild America’s manufacturing sector and put millions of unemployed to work in public projects somewhat similar to those created during the Great Depression. He is also inviting all AFL-CIO unions to join in pressing the national, state and local governments to provide two-year. free tuition skills training programs, create “green” jobs, assist America’s transit system and enact a “Buy American” law with teeth

We’ve had 14 years of the conservative, status quo Sweeney-Trumka leadership.. Look where they’ve left us? What sense does it make to give Richard Trumka four more years of the same?

Tom Buffenbarger has demonstrated that he is responsive to the need for change. He is smart, energetic and has some excellent proposals to get the AFL-CIO out of the mess it has been in for too many years. Let’s do the sensible thing and elected Tom Buffenbarger as President of the AFL-CIO.

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Labor’s Voice for Change originally endorsed Leo Gerard. President of the United Steelworkers, as our candidate for AFL-CIO President, but Gerard decided to endorse his good friend, “Rich” Trumka. In some respects, we believe Tom Buffendarger is more qualified than Gerard for the job. We are delighted with our present choice.—Harry Kelber

Article 55 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, July 23.