Labor's Voice for Change (66) September 1, 2009

Trumka Has the Votes of the Big Unions,
But Little Support from AFL-CIO Members

By Harry Kelber
Candidate for AFL-CIO Executive Council

All that Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka has to do to be elected AFL-CIO president is to retain the loyalty of the presidents of eight to 10 of the biggest unions that cast a majority of convention votes. That’s why he is not campaigning for votes from union members, because he doesn’t need them. He expects to win by just remaining silent.

John Sweeney, who is now retiring as AFL-CIO president, successfully worked this strategy to win three consecutive elections, and Trumka is playing the same game, No matter how poor his 14-year record as the AFL-CIO’s No. 2 executive officer or whatever misdeeds he has committed, Trumka is expected to win the AFL-CIO presidency, because, as yet, there is no union official or member willing to challenge him.

Trumka is not a popular figure within the labor movement. He is hardly known in the African-American or Latino communities, because he has never shown an active interest in their problems. Nor has he cultivated ties with the women’s movement, whose members represent better than 40 percent of the AFL-CIO.

It’s worth noting that Trumka’s supporters have remained silent about charges that, as secretary-treasurer, he allowed the AFL-CIO’s net assets to shrink from $66 million to a negative $2.3 million in eight years. Nor have they dared to defend the $74,000 pay increase which he gladly accepted, on top of his $165,000 regular salary and a pension that gives him 60 percent of his top pay each year when he retires. Why doesn’t Trumka respond? Is he taking the “Fifth” on these charges?

What do Trumka’s supporters say in his behalf? That he has “fire in his belly.” What’s above his neck is what matters. Does he have any ideas to rebuild the AFL-CIO to the powerhouse it once was? What are they? What does he have to say about rescuing the AFL-CIO from insolvency, financial problems that were aggravated during his tenure as secretary-treasurer?

Trumka’s supporters have made much of the fact that he urged white union members to vote for Obama. But does that qualify him as a champion of the rights of African-Americans?

If Trumka and his supporters think he is being maligned, why don’t they make their case publicly instead of hiding behind a stonewall of silence?

Can We Afford to Let Trumka Win a Fourth Time by Default?

It is imperative that we find a candidate to oppose Richard Trumka for President of the AFL-CIO. If we can’t, Trumka will win by default and he can claim he is the undisputed leader of the labor movement.

He and his allies will have complete control of the AFL-CIO as their private property. They can spend our dues money as they will, Their positions will remain secure, even if membership continues to decline. They won’t have to respond to questions from members. And If they make costly mistakes, no one needs to know.

In short, union democracy and members’ rights will vanish. The AFL-CIO will be an autocracy, not a democracy. There won’t be any transparency or accountability. Members will simply not be told about what’s going on and it will be pointless to complain.

We should be able to find one union candidate who will step forward to challenge Trumka for the AFL-CIO presidency. Even if our candidate loses, the election can energize members to become involved in union affairs. The alternative is abject surrender,

With 50 affiliated state federations, 500 central labor councils and thousands of local unions, we must find at least one union officer or member who is courageous and principled enough to take on the challenge.

The consequences would be tragic if no one came calling.

Article 67 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted September 3 , 2009.