Labor's Voice for Change (60) August 11, 2009

A Vulnerable Trumka Can Be Defeated;
Find a Smart Candidate with Courage

By Harry Kelber

Here are SIX SOLID REASONS why Richard Trumka should not be elected president of the AFL-CIO.

1. As the AFL-CIO’s chief financial officer, Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka allowed the Federation’s net assets to shrink from $66 million on July 1, 2000 to a negative of $2.3 million by June 30, 2008. Furthermore, the AFL-CIO’s liabilities, as of June 30, 2008, was more than $90.7 million, and that was before the multimillions it spent during the 2008 election campaign.

What was Trumka doing while the AFL-CIO was drowning in red ink? How does he propose to clear up the mess that, under his watch, has brought the Federation to the brink of near-insolvency? Why does he refuse to answer legitimate questions about wasteful spending and bookkeeping manipulation?

2, Richard Trumka increased his yearly salary by nearly $74,000—from $165,000 to $238,975— in the last four years. That amounts to a 44 percent salary increase. In addition, Trumka will also get an AFL-CIO pension equal to 60 percent of his top pay.

What did Trumka do to deserve that extra $74,000? Why did he keep it secret? Like a corporate CEO, he apparently had no qualms about pocketing all that money, while the AFL-CIO was facing a financial crisis, and millions of workers were losing their jobs and their homes.

3. In the 14 years that the Sweeney-Trumka team has led the AFL-CIO, union membership in the nation’s workforce has dropped from 14.9 percent to the present 12.4 percent or less. In the private sector, only 7.4 percent of the workers belong to unions.

Trumka, as secretary-treasurer, functioned mainly as an AFL-CIO in-house bureaucrat. There is nothing in his 14-year record as an AFL-CIO functionary to show that he had a plan to rebuild the labor movement or that he has one today. He has demonstrated that he can get along nicely, even as union membership keeps declining and labor’s bargaining strength is weakened.

4. Trumka has been acting as a status quo conservative, at a time when the public, including union members, are calling for much-needed change. He has not introduced a single proposal for reform that would make the AFL-CIO a more democratic organization. In fact, he prefers to hang on to several restrictions on the rights of union members, because they have helped him get elected three times, without opposition or debate.

There will be neither transparency nor accountability if Trumka wins the election for AFL-CIO president. He and his cronies won’t tell us what they will be doing with our dues money, and they won’t respond to our questions, because they’ll feel they don’t have to. What could we possibly do to them?

5. Trumka has shown no concern for the needs of working women and ethnic minorities, because he doesn’t need their votes to get elected. Over the years, the only people he has catered to is a group of presidents of eight of the biggest international unions who, under the egregiously unfair convention rules, control a majority of the votes that decide elections.

Trumka is hardly a popular figure in the African-American and Latino communities, and he does not get invited to women’s meetings. It is doubtful that many union members wildly celebrated when they heard of his announcement for the AFL-CIO presidency. Nor did it give unorganized workers more confidence about the future. In sum, Trumka is not the kind of inspirational leader that workers need and want today.

6. Silence and secrecy have been the hallmark of the Sweeney-Trumka group these past 14 years, and they mean to keep it that way, not only for the next four years, but beyond. They regard the AFL-CIO as their property, not the members’—and they don’t see or expect anyone to challenge them.

It’s no secret that the Trumka crowd wants to continue their monopoly of power over the AFL-CIO by suppressing any opposition from within the labor movement. Right now, their immediate objective is to prevent any challenge to Trumka that would force an actual election and public debate.

Any Candidate Can Force Trumka to Debate

There are dozens of union officers and labor activists who are more experienced, better informed and far more popular than Richard Trumka. They could give “Rich:” a rough time in a fair and open public debate on the critical issues facing workers and their unions.

The problem is that no union official or member has shown the courage to step forward and become a candidate to challenge Trumka for the AFL-CIO presidency. There must be at least a few union leaders who are not so easily intimidated by possible threats that their career will suffer if any becomes a candidate against Trumka.

One of the immediate advantages for an opposition candidate is that Trumka will be put on the defensive. During the public debate, he will be compelled to answer a host of embarrassing questions.

Let’s put the issue bluntly: unless we find at least somebody in the AFL-CIO, who will have the guts to challenge Trumka (and become a hero to millions of union members), there will be no election for the presidency of the AFL-CIO. Trumka will have won by default. The same incompetent, corrupt, self-serving and self-perpetuating group will continue to run the AFL-CIO. Do we want that to happen? What are we willing to do to prevent it?

Will any union officer or labor activist step forward and take on the challenge?>

Article 61 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, August 13.