LaborTalk for September 30, 2011

New Labor Coalition Plans to Invest Billions
In Infrastructure and Clean Energy Jobs

By Harry Kelber

A broad coalition, initiated by the American Federation of Teachers and joined by the AFL-CIO and several million-member unions, announced progress in their commitment to invest in infrastructure, clean energy and retrofitting job training. The group, that also includes pension funds and other potential investors, met Sept. 20-22 at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City.

The meeting was a follow-up to a June gathering where the AFL-CIO committed itself to working with member unions, pension funds and their investment professionals, and governments at every level to invest $10 billion to creating infrastructure jobs, as well as at least $20 million in specific energy retrofits over the next year.

There will be a retrofit (modernizing job) at AFL-CIO headquarters, with an ambitious plan to train tens of thousands of workers with the necessary skills to work on 21st century infrastructure jobs.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said: "At the AFL-CIO, we know America wants to work. And we can't wait for Washington. We look forward to working together to see that workers' capital is invested profitably in rebuilding our country and putting America back to work."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), added: "Public employee unions, investment groups and others want to be part of a renewed America. What we're talking about today is America's retirees and future retirees, helping their country recover economically and invest in projects that might never have gotten off the ground because of budget crises."

What Do the Many Investors Expect in Return?

Organized labor is justly impatient with the slow response by the government and industry to the infrastructure needs of the country. The unions that are part of the investing coalition should be complimented for setting an example of how new jobs can be created.

But if the coalition is to succeed in its massive undertaking, it must clearly define its functions and its goals, especially since union dues and pension funds will be used in financing various projects. Here are some questions that require answers:

• Will investors be entitled to profits? How will they be determined?

• Will the coalition outsource their newly equipped workers?

• Will the coalition set up a company to compete with other firms?

• How will union members be part of the job-creating process?

* * * * *

Questions have been raised about the involvement of former President Bill Clinton in the problems of American labor. What exactly did he have to say to our union leaders when he met them at the annual CGI meeting on Sept. 20-22 in New York City? And what help did he offer besides advice?

One final question: Will we get periodic reports on how the money is being spent and what is accomplished?

LaborTalk will be posted here on October 4, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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