Labor's Voice for Change (55) July 23, 2009

Trumka’s Refusal to Answer Any Questions
Shows His Contempt for Union Members

By Harry Kelber

Richard Trumka expects to be elected AFL-CIO President without answering a single question about his 14-year tenure as secretary-treasurer or what he would do to solve the current problems facing working people and their unions.

He has refused to answer questions about his competence and judgment as the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer. It is now public knowledge that the AFL-CIO’s net assets shrunk from $66 million in 2000 to negative $2.3 million by 2008. Yet Trumka, who was secretary-treasurer during those years, won’t tell us what caused the meltdown of the Federation’s treasury or what he would do about it if he were AFL-CIO president.

It has also come to light that Trumka received an extra $74,000 from the AFL-CIO treasury, in addition to his basic salary of-$165,000 in the four years between 2005 and 2009, plus a pension of 60 percent of his top earnings. Trumka won’t say why he was entitled to that extra $74,000, amounting to a 44 percent pay increase over his normal salary—at a rime when the AFL-CIO was facing a financial crisis and millions of workers were losing their jobs and their homes.

Trumka’s trademark is his “fire in the belly” speeches, charged with emotional rhetoric, that draw cheers from an audience at labor rallies. But, he has almost never discussed policy questions, because that has been the province of his boss, John Sweeney.

When a reporter noted that Trumka sometimes appeared almost invisible during the past 14 years, Trumka replied: “I was a good soldier.” Quite an obedient soldier, who dared not say anything that would even remotely criticize his boss, John Sweeney. Trumka showed a lot of patience in waiting 14 years as the “heir apparent” for the AFL-CIO presidency. This year, with Sweeney retiring, he feels he’s entitled to the prize.

Facing No Oversight, 3 Top Officers Milk AFL-CIO’s Treasury

The AFL-CIO has been suffering a financial crisis that, until recently, has been hidden from the union membership. But the three top officers have profited handsomely during the economic downturn. Sweeney will leave the mess he helped to create with a pension of $163,350 a year for life, which is 60 percent of his current $272,250 salary.

Arlene Holt-Baker, who has held the position of AFL-CIO Executive Vice President for less than two years, has seen her salary jump from $165,00 to $238,975 a year plus a 60 percent annual pension—the same as Trumka's. Like corporate CEOs, they get their salaries and pay increases whether they perform well or poorly. And we leave that judgment to the membership.

The salaries and pensions of the AFL-CIO’s trio of top officers are protected by specific clauses in the Federation’s. Constitution. If we feel that salaries and benefits of AFL-CIO officers should not be fixed by the Constitution, then a constitutional amendment will be required to eliminate that provision.

Trumka and his power-hungry group of international union presidents will continue to ignore the union membership—and expect to get away with ii, just as in the past. The AFL-CIO belongs to them. They operate it as their property, not ours. They’ll recognize that we’re alive only when they’ll ask us for a dues increase or an assessment tax.

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I believe there is no plausible reason why the subject of salaries and pensions should be in the Constitution. If elected to the 43-member Executive Council, I will argue forcefully that compensation for top officers should be subject to negotiation.

Article 56 of Labor’s Voice for Change” will b posted on Thursday, July 23.