AFL-CIO Resolutions: Some That Passed…And Three That Didn’t

LOS ANGELES —Sometimes, at a conference of a major organization, or in a legislature, what doesn’t pass is as important as what does.  And that was the case with two big issues at the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles.

One was what to do about the threat to multi-employer health care plans posed by the Obama administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care revision law.  The way Obama’s agencies interpret the act could cost 20 million people their insurance, union leaders and members worry.

AFL-CIO leaders worry about that, too.  Federation President Richard Trumka says the fed is in constant talks with the White House about how to interpret the law to protect the multi-employer plans.  The administration is turning a deaf ear, so far.

In the end, delegates approved a resolution reaffirming labor’s support for the health care law, but pointing out the holes and demanding Obama or Congress fix them.

The only verbal dissent on that voice vote came from National Nurses United.  It protested leaving health insurers to run the show and raise premiums and deny care.  NNU and its allies want universal, government-run single-payer national health care.

The other contentious issue was amending Article 20 of the federation’s Constitution.  The article sets up procedures to judge cases where one AFL-CIO union accuses another of “raiding,” or organizing members in the second union’s jurisdiction and to aid raided unions, regardless of the source of the raid.

This convention, it was a particular cause of the Machinists.  They had to defeat non-AFL-CIO unions’ raids and added the fed’s anti-raiding help isn’t strong enough.

Three resolutions strengthening the protections and cooperation against raiding were referred to the labor federation’s Executive Council, which makes major decisions between conventions.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka promised the council would report and recommend solutions at its next meeting, early next year in Houston.

That didn’t satisfy Machinists Vice President Sito Pantoja, whom Trumka let speak after the decision was announced.  Pantoja said delegates had traveled hundreds of miles to debate the issue and call for stronger protections against raiding.  “Bring them back” to the floor for a vote, Pantoja argued, referring to the three resolves.

Other resolutions were adopted with much less discussion, often a single 3-minute speech for them, and none were opposed.  But many are policy statements left to the Executive Council to implement in future years, if at all.  Among them:

• A safe workplaces resolution demanding a stronger Occupational Safety and Health Administration and act and a stronger Mine Safety and Health Administration, tougher enforcement of safety and health laws – and vowing “legal action when neces-sary” if the Obama administration drags its feet on new job safety and health rules.

• Demanding a “people-centered” trade policy in U.S. bargaining on new trade pacts, including proposed treaties with 11 Asian nations and with the European Union.

In particular, the European pact, which would cover half of the world’s economic output, must “not be a tool to promote deregulation and downward harmonization of standards” for worker rights, job safety and health, consumer protection and the environment.  “Nor should it be a vehicle for lowering U.S. standards for government procurement” – such as “Buy America” requirements – “or public services.”

Trade policy should “not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors,” the resolution adds.  Trade pacts also should outlaw currency manipulation.  The Asia pact gives investors free rein.  China is a big currency manipulator, but not the only one.

• Opposing privatization and downsizing of the U.S. Postal Service.  Grass-roots organizers, former NALC members from Portland, Ore., stood outside the convention’s main door passing out flyers about the USPS’ schemes.  “Postal workers, teachers, municipal workers and other workers can join together on a local level in a common struggle to overcome privatization,” their flyer said.

• Expanding AFL-CIO and union efforts to expand voter registration and protect the right to vote.  “The federation will ask all state feds, local labor councils and affiliates to add the following to their candidate questionnaires: ‘Do you support universal registration, including eliminating all barriers to registration?’ and ‘Will you oppose any obstacle to voting and support  greater participation?  And will you support the right to vote regardless of economic condition or race?’”  It also calls for holding politicians accountable for their votes and electing more union members to office.

• A second political resolution, pushed by the Fire Fighters in particular, stating the federation’s political program is non-partisan and would work with candidates, of any party, who support workers’ causes.

• Reiterating labor’s support for full collective bargaining rights for public safety workers.  Southern states curb the safety workers’ rights; North Carolina outlaws them.

• Calling for comprehensive prison reform.  That includes opposing the private prison industry – which costs union workers’ jobs – and mass incarceration.  This was the first time the fed ever took a position on the issue, and Trumka mentioned it several times, blasting the “school-to-prison pipeline” that feeds inner-city young men to jail.

-PAI