Labor Boss Loves Lefties

AFL-CIO President urges union to partner with far-left activist groups

AFL-CIO Presidet Richard Trumka with President Barack Obama / AP
September 11, 2013

The head of the AFL-CIO proposed the creation of formal partnerships with a variety of liberal special interest groups in the hopes that they will rally behind labor’s political agenda during the group’s national convention in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Richard Trumka called on the union to welcome environmentalists, feminists, and other far left activists that have clashed with union interests in the past. Trumka said that adopting a leftwing agenda will help swell ranks and restore the influence it once enjoyed in American politics.

"We’ll take up resolutions that change the way this Federation works, resolutions that will open our doors and make us stronger and better," Trumka said. "Everything we do this week will be part of a strategy for winning broadly shared prosperity."

The union boss hopes that the proposal will help boost labor’s political clout, which has dipped as membership roles have declined even though campaign spending on behalf of Democrats has skyrocketed.

Labor amassed $1.7 billion in political expenditures in the 2012 election—the most of any interest group—but has grown increasingly disconnected from the White House.

The Obama administration has failed to address union criticism that Obamacare will hurt union health care plans, sided with environmentalists in contentious coal and energy regulations, and blocked an airline merger that would benefit union workers.

"Their unique ability to collect money from people’s paychecks, rather than soliciting donations, has made them more powerful per capita than organizations that rely on donations alone, groups like the Sierra Club," said Center for Union Facts Managing director Justin Wilson.

"But they don’t have the membership to give the Democratic Party the voters they once did; their political power is tied directly to their worker power," Wilson said.

Wilson called the union efforts a "stopgap measure" that fails to address the heart of union ailments.

"Union operations are a $24 billion per year enterprise. They’ve been losing marketshare for thirty years and this won’t increase the number of dues-paying members they need to reestablish themselves as powerbrokers," he said.

The union made the announcement at its quadrennial meeting and also adopted measures unrelated to labor that serve liberal politicians, such as pledging union support for "transgender protection."

Several Republican aides welcomed the changes as an opportunity for the GOP to reach workers disenchanted with the leftward tilt of their union.

"This is clearly a sign of desperation, but at the same time a betrayal of their traditional membership and core commitments. Where does the AFL-CIO see itself in 10 years, fighting for its workers or leading the charge of a leftist, progressive agenda that many of its members outright reject?" one Hill staffer told the Washington Free Beacon on condition of anonymity.

Another senior Senate aide said that the AFL-CIO’s close ties to the Obama agenda had given the GOP several openings to attract the support of union members.

"It’s clear beyond any doubt that the AFL-CIO’s strategy moving forward is to abandon any pretense of being a labor union and become an arm of the far left to significantly expand their power base," the Senate aide said. "This public acknowledgment creates a huge tactical opening to win a large constituency who have not traditionally voted Republican, but no longer feel represented by the AFL-CIO and the Democrats."

The aide cited the AFL-CIO’s efforts to pass Obamacare, which now threatens union benefits, and its position on the Gang of 8 immigration bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will drive down wages for blue-collar workers by thousands of dollars.

The GOP can seize these disaffected union voters by focusing on the economic aspects of issues like immigration reform and energy production, rather than repeating talking points about the "rule of law" on the former and gas prices on the latter.

Wilson said the implementation of the plan could threaten enthusiasm among union ranks, especially when conservative-leaning members of groups, such as the firefighters’ and miners’ unions, interact with the union’s new partners.

"[Trumka’s] inviting into the bedroom some of the more progressive groups that are pushing policies that may hurt job creation for industries that are unionized," he said.