The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 20, 2012

Labor to push ‘economic bill of rights’

By The Building Tradesman



By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Organized labor will launch a big drive on Aug. 11, promoting an “Economic Bill of Rights” and promising to hold individual political candidates and the two major political parties accountable on whether they support it or not, two top union leaders announced on July 12.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and IBEW President Ed Hill said the “Workers Stand for America” campaign will be separate from labor’s political efforts – but nonetheless have a political angle.  The bill of rights drive will start with a rally in Ben Franklin Park just below the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“Economic recovery is not reaching the vast majority of working men and women in America, and it is time to refocus the agenda on rebuilding economic opportunity for all,” Hill said. “Our message to both political parties is to return to the basic values that created America’s best days. Republicans and Democrats need to hear what the people are saying and break through the gridlock and the attacks on the rights of workers at all levels of government.”

Trumka turned aside a question, however, of whether there would be a “stick” to go with the “carrot” of labor support for hopefuls who sign the economic bill of rights.

“If you sign it, it sends one message,” he said.  “If you don’t, it sends another.  I can’t imagine people not signing it – but people will not.”

“It’s more information for our members” and for other workers “and more information they can use” to determine “who is likely to support working people,” he said.

The bill of rights was released at a July 12 press conference and will be discussed at the rally, weeks before the two parties’ conventions.  It will also be presented, for signature, to incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama, presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney and other candidates of all parties at all levels.

After the Philadelphia rally, unionists will publicize the document and seek signatures not just from politicians, but from workers and family members, union and nonunion.  Then a campaign of accountability will show who signed – and who didn’t – among the officeholders and the parties, and continue through and after the election.

The Supreme Court’s two-year-old Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporate and conservative campaign cash, will let labor communicate with non-unionists as well, Trumka said.  He stressed the economic bill of rights applies to all workers, not just unionists, and invited everyone to the rally.

The bill of rights the unions are pushing has five points.  The rights are:

  • Full employment at a living wage.  That would come from investment in infrastructure, developing new industry and “maintaining job creation as a top policy priority,” the bill of rights says.
  • Full participation in elections and politics.  That includes protecting the right to vote, Trumka said.  He noted this is the first election in years where there has been a concerted nationwide effort to deprive people of voting rights, “for partisan purposes.”

As proof, Trumka cited a GOP legislative leader in his home state, Pennsylvania, who told fellow Republicans the aim of its “voter ID” law was to disenfranchise enough people to let Romney win Pennsylvania.  State election officials calculate the new law will toss more than 700,000 people – 1 of every 11 – off the rolls there.  Experts say such laws nationwide will bar minorities, women, workers, students and the elderly.

  • “The right to a voice at work.  All workers have the right of freedom of association in the workplace,” the economic bill of rights says.  That includes “the right to collectively bargain with their employer to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.”  But the bill of rights was not specific about how to achieve that goal, and it did not explicitly name labor’s now-dead legislative goal, the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Right to a quality education.  “Quality, affordable education should be universally available from pre-kindergarten to college,” the bill of rights says.  That includes more apprenticeships and teaching “specialty skills” U.S. workers need to compete.
  • “The right to a secure, healthy future.”  That prompted Trumka to launch into a defense of Obama’s health care law, which has split the country and enraged the GOP.  He challenged its foes to take away the law’s benefits, including coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, closing the “doughnut hole” that forced seniors to pay for prescription drugs, its outlawing of health discrimination against women and its retention of children until age 26 on their parents’ health care plans.

But he also reiterated Obama’s law is only a first big step in the fight for better health care for all, saying labor would continue to battle for “Medicare for all.”

Trumka and Hill directly denied a tie between the new drive and labor’s decision to downplay its role at the coming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The bill of rights idea began, they said, before the Democrats chose Charlotte, and before the federation’s executive council meeting this past March.

But Hill admitted that labor was not happy with the choice of Charlotte, which has no unionized hotels and is in a rabidly right-to-work state.  Unions were not only unhappy with the choice, but with how it was made, he said.  Unions, a key Democratic constituency, were not consulted at any step of the way, Hill added.

  • Full employment at a living wage.  That would come from investment in infrastructure, developing new industry and “maintaining job creation as a top policy priority,” the bill of rights says.
  • Full participation in elections and politics.  That includes protecting the right to vote, Trumka said.  He noted this is the first election in years where there has been a concerted nationwide effort to deprive people of voting rights, “for partisan purposes.”
As proof, Trumka cited a GOP legislative leader in his home state, Pennsylvania, who told fellow Republicans the aim of its “voter ID” law was to disenfranchise enough people to let Romney win Pennsylvania.  State election officials calculate the new law will toss more than 700,000 people – 1 of every 11 – off the rolls there.  Experts say such laws nationwide will bar minorities, women, workers, students and the elderly.
  • "The right to a voice at work.  All workers have the right of freedom of association in the workplace,” the economic bill of rights says.  That includes “the right to collectively bargain with their employer to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.”  But the bill of rights was not specific about how to achieve that goal, and it did not explicitly name labor’s now-dead legislative goal, the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Right to a quality education.  “Quality, affordable education should be universally available from pre-kindergarten to college,” the bill of rights says.  That includes more apprenticeships and teaching “specialty skills” U.S. workers need to compete.
  • “The right to a secure, healthy future.”  That prompted Trumka to launch into a defense of Obama’s health care law, which has split the country and enraged the GOP.  He challenged its foes to take away the law’s benefits, including coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, closing the “doughnut hole” that forced seniors to pay for prescription drugs, its outlawing of health discrimination against women and its retention of children until age 26 on their parents’ health care plans.
But he also reiterated Obama’s law is only a first big step in the fight for better health care for all, saying labor would continue to battle for “Medicare for all.” Trumka and Hill directly denied a tie between the new drive and labor’s decision to downplay its role at the coming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The bill of rights idea began, they said, before the Democrats chose Charlotte, and before the federation’s executive council meeting this past March. But Hill admitted that labor was not happy with the choice of Charlotte, which has no unionized hotels and is in a rabidly right-to-work state.  Unions were not only unhappy with the choice, but with how it was made, he said.  Unions, a key Democratic constituency, were not consulted at any step of the way, Hill added.