AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka declares labor's 'independence'... Obama and reactionary Democrats can no longer count on knee-jerk support from 'Big Labor'

While at least one of the major teacher unions is already moving to endorse Barack Obama, the AFL-CIO is beginning to see that it has to become more independent of the Democratic Party in order to grow and represent the working class. The following article was published Friday May 6, 2011 at

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addressed the American Federation of Teachers convention on July 11, 2011, above. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Richard Trumka declares labor's independence, The man who shamed Democrats for anti-Obama racism vows to put AFL-CIO cash into its own future, not the party's

By Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large. Friday, May 6, 2011 08:30 ET

One of the shining moments of the 2008 presidential campaign came when AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka confronted the racism that was making some white union members, even staunch Democrats, reluctant to vote for Barack Obama. The son and grandson of miners from Nemacolin, Pa., who went into the mines himself, then went to law school, then became UMWA president, Trumka described the way he challenged an old family friend and local Democrat who confided she wouldn't vote for the Democratic nominee because he was black. He told the story in a series of speeches that summer; one went up on YouTube, where it's been viewed more than a half-million times, becoming a case study in the way courage and candor can fight racism.

I said, ‘Look around. Nemacolin’s a dying town. There’re no jobs here. Kids are moving away because there’s no future here. And here’s a man, Barack Obama, who’s going to fight for people like us and you won’t vote for him because of the color of his skin.’ Brothers and sisters, we can’t tap dance around the fact that there are a lot of folks out there just like that woman. A lot of them are good union people; they just can’t get past this idea that there’s something wrong with voting for a black man. Well, those of us who know better can’t afford to look the other way…. I don’t think we should be out there pointing fingers in peoples’ faces and calling them racist; instead we need to educate them that if they care about holding on to their jobs, their health care, their pensions, and their homes — if they care about creating good jobs with clean energy, child care, pay equity for women workers — there’s only going to be one candidate on the ballot this fall who’s on their side… only one candidate who’s going to stand up for their families… only one candidate who’s earned their votes… and his name is Barack Obama!"

Three years later, Trumka is still teaching and preaching, only now his target is often that same Barack Obama, and other Democrats who've let Republicans set the terms of the debate over the deficit and the economy. With the spontaneous public backlash against anti-labor GOP governors from Wisconsin to Ohio to Maine, Trumka and other union leaders have an unexpected opportunity to rebuild the sagging labor movement — but it's not obvious how to do it. There's new political support from non-union members bewildered by an ultra-right GOP assault on working people. But there's also a disappointing three-year record of Democrats looking for compromise with the anti-labor, pro-plutocrat GOP. What's a pillar of the overmatched, underfunded Democratic Party to do?

Between the opportunity provided by post-Wisconsin organizing and the disappointing record of a Democratic White House, labor has a big decision: Go all in with the president and party leaders in 2012, or figure out how to advance its agenda by charting a more independent path. The influential firefighters union made headlines last week by announcing it was shifting its resources from presidential and congressional elections into local races, to fight the growing assault on public worker rights at the state and county level. "It's a pattern of disappointments," union president Harold Schaitberger told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. "Our friends have not found a way to deliver on behalf of workers, on behalf of the middle class. We are turning the spigot off and redirecting our efforts out to the various states where we are fighting these fights."

Meanwhile, there's a raft of new "independent expenditure" organizations backing Democrats, to try to help the party fight on the dismal, polluted terrain of anonymous donors legalized by the Supreme Court's pro-corporate Citizens United decision.

In 2008, candidate Obama strong-armed Democratic donors to funnel resources to his organization, and independent groups shut down. Now, one of the newest, Priorities USA, is led by Obama lieutenant Bill Burton. "Karl Rove and the Koch brothers cannot live by one set of rules as our values and our candidates are overrun with their hundreds of millions of dollars," Burton told ABC's Jake Tapper. " We will follow the rules as the Supreme Court has laid them out, but the days of the double standard are over.”

While the Citizens United decision is the major driver behind the organizing of Democratic IE groups, a secondary factor is some activists' unhappiness with the way the Obama White House used its powerful machine of donors and volunteers after the 2008 election — or rather, didn't use it, discouraging independent campaigns on behalf of the president's healthcare proposal, against conservative Blue Dog Democrats, even talking down OFA support of public workers in Wisconsin.

Trumka's AFL-CIO famously bucked the White House, supporting Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's unsuccessful primary challenge to Blue Dog Sen. Blanche Lincoln. When Halter lost, anonymous White House officials attacked labor leaders as "absolute idiots" who had been "humiliated" after flushing $10 million "down the toilet."

In an interview last week Trumka seemed unchastened by attacks over the Halter bid, and he pledged the AFL-CIO to a new independence from Democratic Party organizations and candidates. He didn't spell out exactly what that might mean, citing decisions to be made by the federation's governing Executive Council.

"You'll see us giving less to party structure, and more to our own structure," Trumka promised. "It's actually going to be fun." Trumka seems to be having fun in the wake of Wisconsin, working with a 60-member coalition on the AFL-CIO's "We are One" rallies that turned out hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the nation on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, where he'd traveled to support striking sanitation workers, a reminder of earlier alliances between the civil rights movement and labor.

Trumka recently launched an "Executive Pay Watch" project, to track the gulf between CEO salaries and the average worker's and hosted economist Joseph Stiglitz, in the wake of his widely read Vanity Fair piece "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%." As we talked, Trumka sketched out graphs showing the way the income gains tied to U.S. productivity increases have gone to the top 10 percent over the last 30 years, and pushed PowerPoints and pie charts across his desk, showing me the way Democrats have become almost as reliant as Republicans on corporate money (Republicans get 79 percent of campaign contributions from business; Democrats get 72 percent, and the share from unions has dropped in half in just the last decade.) Like other labor and progressive leaders, Trumka is trying to figure out how to compete in a war of ideas as well as campaign dollars.

Did Wisconsin surprise you?

"You know, you knew it was coming. It was more like: When? What's going to be the final pinpoint that makes it happen? [The public employee unions] were being eminently reasonable. [Gov. Scott Walker] creates the deficit, he lies about their wages being higher; they're not; he lies about the pension program being underfunded; it's not. But the unions accepted the proposal, that they'd pay more for healthcare and pensions. People are saying enough is enough. It was truly a spontaneous grass-roots rank and file movement, and it's still growing. Now it's up to us to convert it from a moment to a movement.

"If you look at what happened for the last 30 years, the rich and the well-to-do and the corporations had a party, and working people weren't invited to the party. From 1946 to 1973, productivity was rising and so were wages; productivity and wages were linked at that time. People in the bottom two quartiles, their wages were rising faster than those at the top. As a result, the wage gap was closing, and the middle class was born. From '73 to the present, wages stagnated, but productivity went up, and all of the income gains have gone to the top 10 percent; the top 1 percent have taken 58 percent of the gains. From 46 to 73, we represented up to 40 percent of the labor force, and we were driving wages up for everyone. Now that we're down to 12 percent, we're not driving wages up, we're stagnant.

"So workers have gone through four to five strategies to cope: First they worked overtime; then they sent another person into the workforce, but that didn't keep up; then they got a second job; then came the tech bubble, your 401K went up, you could borrow against it; then came the housing bubble, and your $100K house is worth $200K. So you could keep consuming even with flat wages. We've bumped up on the limits of all that now. We paid with our jobs, we paid with our homes, we'll see 2.5 million people lose their homes this year. [Republicans] believe that you can't provide good jobs, good pensions and security for people. You have to accept that the country is finished. They've scaled back the American dream. They've given up on America. We haven't given up on America. "

It was good to hear that kind of rhetoric from President Obama when he laid out his own budget plan . But you said in a statement that you still thought his balance of spending cuts vs. tax increases,

"in attacking the deficit, was weighted too much in the spending-cut direction. [Obama] made a strategic mistake when he started talking about the stimulus and deficit reduction at the same time. His message got jumbled. He started with an economic plan, and the rhetoric was right. But the scale wasn't there when it came to the stimulus package, which was woefully low and misstructured, with tax cuts. And now, we don't have a short-term deficit problem, we have a short-term jobs problem. Look at what caused the deficit: Wars, tax cuts, recession, healthcare. When they had a chance to fix healthcare, they jettisoned one of the most important parts early, the public option ... Then he cut a deal with the pharmaceuticals to say we can't use our buying power to reduce costs. You can argue that what we've done [on healthcare reform] will reduce the deficit in the long run, but it's not what it could have done. What do you count as wins?

"Well, Wall Street reform got stronger over the months, rather than weaker. Healthcare was a partial win. I would count it as a beginning, not the end, but a beginning. The stimulus package was still a win. The National Labor Relations Board is at least functioning. The Department of Labor is actually enforcing laws again."

What's your attitude toward 2012? How do you keep Democrats accountable if you're not willing to primary them?

"Well, we have been willing to do that, ask Blanche Lincoln. But we've been debating this, just recently. It's actually going to be fun. You'll see us giving less to party structure, and more to our own structure. Let's say we give three-fourths of the recorded money to the party structure or to the candidate, what do we have the day after Election Day?"



Handshakes? Smiles?

"Maybe. But you won't see that [in 2012]. You'll see more of labor's money put into its own structure right now, and less being set aside for candidates and party structure. What you're about to see is, we're going to do a full-time, around the calendar political program that's going to be mobilizing and educating people 12 months a year, 24 months a cycle, as opposed to doing it till Election Day and dismantling it. We're going to keep people in place, and actually make people pay a price [if they don't keep promises]. We'll start running some of our own, in state races."

Can you give me some examples of where? How will all this work?

"If I would do that, I'd be preempting my executive council. But it'll be far more expansive than it's been in the past. I think you'll see us spending our precious resources to build our structure to hold them accountable. And help them. Because if we're able to educate and mobilize year round, we're able to help them on issues.

"That's a big frustration with OFA, some people wanted to organize around issues and they say they were told not to.

"Well, I think a lot of people don't want to be pushed. But they won't have that option now, because we're going to educate and mobilize year round. We're going to try to become deeper and wider at the same time. [To plan the April 4 - 9 rallies] we put 60-something groups together to capture this moment, and how we turn this moment into a movement — civil rights groups, church groups, environmental groups, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood — we all decided to start working together. We're going to try to get back on every campus out there, start a debate about how we change the country, how we change the economy. We're bringing young people in and not saying, here's what we can do for you, but tell us what you need us to do for you? We're working on fair treatment for day laborers, for home care workers -- supporting legislation that can at least set a floor for them. It's not us going in anymore and saying, "Here's our model."


May 9, 2011 at 10:05 AM

By: John Kugler

AFL-CIO Targets CEO Compensation

AFL-CIO Targets CEO Compensation

April 19, 2011, 4:07 PM ET

By Melanie Trottman

So how much do those CEOs make?

The AFL-CIO, in an effort to point out the disparity between those at the top and those at the median point, launched a new version of its Executive Paywatch website, a searchable data-filled tool containing last year’s compensation for 100 highest paid CEOs.

The AFL-CIO’s analysis found that total compensation for the CEOs of the biggest 299 companies could have supported jobs for some 102,000 median-wage workers; the average CEO compensation last year was $11.4 million while the median pay for workers was $33,190.

The site enables searches by company name, industry, and state, and features case studies of six companies.

Type in General Electric Co., for instance, and the database shows tnat the Fairfield, Conn., company’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt got $21.4 million last year, making him the 44th highest paid CEO.

The AFL-CIO analysis lists Liberty Media Corp. CEO Gregory Maffei at the top with a $87.5 million pay package last year, more than 2,600 times the median worker’s pay. Occidental Petroleum Corp. — the subject of one of the case studies — compensated its outgoing CEO Ray Irani $76.1 million in 2010, more than twice his compensation in 2009, the AFL-CIO said.

The CEO-workers comparison isn’t exact. The AFL-CIO’s measure of CEO compensation includes stock options, equity awards and some perks while the measure for workers just includes pay, excluding pensions or employer contributions to 401(k) plans.

The labor federation plans to use the site to encourage shareholders to exercise new rights to vote on executive pay packages. It is also asking union members and others to urge their members of Congress to block attempts to repeal toughened Wall Street regulations. As part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul law passed last year, companies will have to disclose CEO-to-worker pay, among other things.

“These Teflon CEOs escaped unscathed” from the recent U.S. financial crisis, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at a breakfast to launch the revamped site, which was first rolled out in 1997. Mr. Trumka hopes the site will empower people “to stand up to Wall Street greed.”

Compensation of union leaders has also come under scrutiny. A Center for Public Integrity study found the leaders of the 10 largest unions were compensated between $173,000 and $618,000 in 2009, with at least one union president getting a raise as members faced stagnant wages and furloughs.

Mr. Trumka called the study “sort of outrageous” and said union leaders have had to disclose their compensation for decades. He was compensated $264,827 in fiscal 2010, compared with the AFL-CIO’s median pay of $84,375, a ratio of three to one, the federation’s chief research analyst said.

Perhaps Messrs. Trumka and Immelt can work out the differences on President Barack Obama’s jobs council. Mr. Immelt is the chairman and Mr. Trumka is one of 26 members.

May 9, 2011 at 10:06 AM

By: John Kugler

Runaway CEO Pay Could Support 102,000 Jobs

‘Runaway CEO Pay’ Could Support 102,000 Jobs, AFL-CIO Says

By Stephanie Armour - Apr 19, 2011 1:27 PM CT

Chief executive officers at 299 U.S. companies had combined compensation of $3.4 billion in 2010, enough to pay more than 102,000 workers, the AFL-CIO labor federation reported in a study.

CEOs at companies including Viacom Inc. (VIA/B) and Oracle Corp. (ORCL) averaged $11.4 million in total compensation in 2010, according to the report, which used data from website Viacom’s CEO Philippe P. Dauman earned $84.5 million last year, the highest among the executives, according to the report.

“The disparity between CEO and workers’ pay has continued to grow to levels that are completely stunning,” union President Richard Trumka said today at a Washington news conference. He said the U.S. is facing “runaway CEO pay.”

The AFL-CIO, with 12.2 million members, has led U.S. labor unions in criticizing the compensation of executives. Trumka was at the head of a march on Wall Street last year to demand taxes on the bonuses of executives at banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), the fifth-biggest U.S. bank.

Trumka, 61, had total compensation of $283,340, including $246,827 in salary, according to a 2010 union filing with the Labor Department. Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry had compensation of $253,660, including $213,801 in salary, according to a separate filing.

Trumka said since 1959, labor leaders have had information about their pay available. “My ratio to employees here, it’s 4- to-1,” he said. “That’s not bad.”

‘Say on Pay’

Pay for corporate executives may face limits this year because the law overhauling financial regulations gave shareholders a “say on pay” vote on the amount given to top company management, according to the AFL-CIO report. While the votes aren’t binding, they will encourage boards to enact compensation reforms, it said.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act requires the compensation committees of a company’s board be composed of independent directors, and the AFL-CIO report said shareholders must be given an advisory vote on the payments made to executives when they are fired or resign.

Trumka urged lawmakers to resist Republican efforts aimed at weakening or repealing the law’s pay-disclosure requirements. A Republican proposal would strip a provision that requires publicly traded companies to report the ratio of pay between the CEO and the median pay of their employees.

‘Business As Usual’

Critics are “trying to do everything they can to dilute the law and go back to business as usual for Wall Street,” he said.

The average pay for CEOs of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is enough to cover the salaries of 28 U.S. presidents or more than 700 minimum-wage workers, according to the report. The combined compensation would support 102,325 jobs paying the median wage of all workers, the group said.

The AFL-CIO took aim at payments for departing executives called golden parachutes, corporate jet travel, preferential pensions and perks unrelated to performance.

Dauman, 54, more than doubled his compensation from $34 million in 2009, based on U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules, according to a regulatory filing. The company’s brands include MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures.

Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY) CEO Ray R. Irani, 76, received compensation valued at $76 million in 2010, followed by Oracle Corp. CEO Lawrence Ellison, 66, who received $70 million. Occidental is an oil and gas exploration and production company, and Oracle provides integrated business software and hardware systems.

The union’s website links to a database, letting visitors search for a CEO’s total compensation and compare it to their earnings. The union is urging visitors to write lawmakers in opposition to revising the Dodd-Frank law.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at

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