Labor's Voice for Change (62) August 18, 2009

Trumka’s Supporters and Everyone Else Are Silent
About His Greed and Financial Mismanagement

By Harry Kelber

It must say something about the current state of the labor movement that hardly a single voice was raised to condemn, or even talk about, the revelation that AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka took a pay increase of nearly $74,000 over his basic salary of $165.000 in the last four years (that comes to a 44% pay raise) and that he will enjoy a pension that will be 60% of his top pay every year after he retires.

Should Trumka be asked to explain what he did to deserve the extra $74,000? But no one is asking him. It’s as though his huge salary grab is too trivial to warrant criticism, or even discussion. What will it take to arouse the anger of union members?

Does it say something about Trumka’s character that he took the $74,000, even though the Federation is in a serious financial crisis and that tens of thousands of union members are losing their jobs and homes? And he kept his windfall pay raise secret until it was finally revealed by others. Is this the kind of behavior we should expect from an AFL-CIO president?

Trumka’s supporters are embarrassed at this and other revelations of his greed and incompetence, and they hope to figure out a plan for damage control. They have remained silent, hoping that the attacks on Trumka’s integrity will be soon forgotten. But why are union members, especially activists, remaining silent?

To stimulate discussion within the labor movement, I am repeating two examples of Trumka’s incompetence: and challenging his supporters to an open debate on the Internet.

(1) When Sweeney and Trumka were elected to the two top AFL-CIO positions in 1995, unions represented 14.9% of the nation’s labor force. Today, 14 years later, union membership is down to 12.2%. In the private sector, only 7.4% of the nation’s workers are union members. Does anyone have confidence that Trumka has the ability or a plan to rebuild the AFL-CIO?

(2) In the last eight years (2000 to 2008), the AFL-CIO’s net assets fell from $66 million to negative. $2.3 million. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Trumka was in charge of the AFL-CIO’s finances and allowed this to happen, without rallying the unions to deal with the Federation’s looming insolvency.

Does it make no difference to union members and America’s working families whether or not Trumka is elected AFL-CIO president by default, without a trace of opposition or discussion?.

How Trumka Can Be Forced Into an Election and Debate

Trumka’s strategy for winning the AFL-CIO presidency is simple .It calls for complete silence on substantive issues. He won’t talk about his 14-year record as AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer (it's tough to defend), nor will he offer his views on labor’s future. All he has to do is to intimidate any possible opponent and he wins by default, avoiding an election contest. That’s how Trumka won his last three elections.

But Trumka can be forced into an actual election and debate if even one union officer or member publicly announces as a candidate for AFL-CIO President. Surely, there must be dozens of potential candidates, who can match Trumka in experience, knowledge, achievement and popularity. But so far, none have had the courage to come forward to challenge Trumka, even though they are aware of his inept, undemocratic, self-serving behavior.

There are thousands of local unions. And some 500 affiliated Central Labor Councils. And 51 State AFL-CIOs. And 11 million AFL-CIO members. Can’t we find at least one union officer or member with the guts to stand up and force Trumka into an election? The time to become a candidate is NOW, with only three weeks left before the start of the AFL-CIO convention.

In the current situation, the basic principles of unionism are on trial. If Trumka and his allies win control of the AFL-CIO by default for the fourth time through silence and secrecy, this marks the end of union democracy and members’ rights. This is a crisis of conscience for all of us.

What will it be? Surrender? Or speak out?

Article 63 of ”Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, August 20.