WASHINGTON — The nation’s most powerful labour leader, vowing to defeat President Obama’s key trade legislation in the House next month, warned Hillary Clinton of serious political consequences if she fails to take a stand against the Pacific trade pact that the president is campaigning for as a major part of his legacy.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, predicted that no more than 20 House Democrats would vote for Trade Promotion Authority, the ‘fast-track’ bill that on Friday passed the Senate. Thirteen Democrats left their base,’ he said of the Senate vote in an interview with Capital Download. They decided to pass something that was going to cost jobs and lower wages, and they’re going to have to answer to their constituencies for that.’ He added: ‘They’ll be held accountable; there’s no question about that.’
Organised labour has been waging a fierce battle against the legislation, which would require Congress to approve or reject without amendments the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal among the United States and 12 other Pacific Rim nations. Many labour unions have frozen campaign donations as they lobby against it.
The battle between two customary allies – a Democratic president and the country’s biggest labour federation – underscores the complicated politics of Obama’s attempts to pass legislation through a Republican-controlled Congress during the final two years of his tenure.
It also exposes challenges ahead for Clinton, who praised the emerging Pacific pact as ‘the gold standard’ in her memoirs as secretary of State but has avoided declaring her view of it since becoming a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, it falls far short of being the gold standard,’ Trumka told USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series in an interview at AFL-CIO headquarters, just across Lafayette Square from the White House.
‘It’s not silver. I’m not sure it’s copper or some other form of metal, but it’s not gold, because it’s going to cost us jobs and it’s going to lower wages in this country.’ Trumka said he didn’t know where Clinton now stood on the issue. ‘She’s going to have to answer that,’ he said. ‘I think she won’t be able to go through a campaign without answering that and people will take it seriously and it will affect whether they vote for her or don’t vote for her.’
If Clinton backs the trade pact and the fast-track authority, there will be costs, he cautioned. ‘It will be tougher to mobilise working people. It’ll be tougher to get them to come out excited and work to do door-knocking and leafleting and phone-banking and all the things that are going to be necessary if she is the candidate and we endorse her to get elected. It will make it far more difficult.’ It even is ‘conceivable’ that the AFL-CIO wouldn’t endorse a presidential candidate, he said, ‘if both candidates weren’t interested in raising wages and creating jobs.’
Asked whether Obama’s presidency had been good for working Americans, Trumka paused. ‘The president’s been seriously handicapped in his ability to deliver things for the American public, because you’ve got a determined opposition in the Republican Party that will actually hurt the country to deny him a victory,’ he began. But he added, ‘I wish he would have fought for some of the things that are needed as hard as he’s fighting for fast track and TPP.’
In the Senate vote, Trumka said he was surprised to have lost the support of Democratic senators Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware and Patty Murray of Washington state. When the interviewer commented that it’s hard to defeat a president, Trumka replied: ‘We’ll see.’
• Meanwhile north of the border in Canada it is ‘full steam ahead’ for the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s privatisation agenda. ‘Now the privatisation target is long-term care: public private partnerships and offloading of public long-term care beds onto the private system,’ warns Jerry Earle.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE/NUPGE) President (elect) Jerry Earle is expressing his concern and frustration about statements made last week by Minister of Health and Community Services Steve Kent regarding further privatisation of long-term care.
‘It has become abundantly clear that Mr. Kent and this government are dead set on moving forward at breakneck speed with their privatisation agenda in health care. This is extremely concerning,’ said Earle.
‘First, it was adult basic education and group homes, then food services and security at the Health Sciences Centre. Now the privatisation target is painted on long term care: public private partnerships and offloading of public long-term care beds onto the private system. ‘What’s next?’
Last week, in response to questions on the matter in the House of Assembly, Minister Kent said that the government was paying a privately owned and operated facility to use 15 of its long term care beds. The government knew what staffing resources would be needed to run the new facility and yet, here they are scrambling to the private system for resources.
‘Combined with the ill-conceived and rushed plan to move forward with P3s – which we still know very little about – it is clear that this Minister and this government are set on selling off our health care system piece by piece to the private sector.’
Minister Kent also acknowledged that there are issues with recruitment, retention, and staffing levels that have led to increases in overtime, sick leave and refusals to approve leave for staff at the long-term care facility. Minister Kent blames public health care workers instead of taking responsibility for lack of staffing strategy.
‘Minister Kent can try to place the blame on the dedicated and hardworking public sector health care workers at the long-term care facility, but we all know that it is his government which failed to adequately plan and prepare for the opening of the new facility,’ stated Earle. We have members being refused leave, doing double shifts, being asked to stay on when their shifts are done, and working in units that are short staffed. Government’s failure to develop a staffing strategy has left existing workers stressed and overworked, and then they have the gall to place the blame for unopened beds on the workers? It’s unbelievable.’
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organisations with over 360,000 members. It’s mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our commonwealth is used for the common good.
• Hundreds of pensioners who worked at Wabush Mines in Labrador prior to its closure last year are coming to grips with the shocking news that their health and life insurance benefits are about to be cancelled.
The former owner of the iron ore mine, U.S.-based Cliffs Natural Resources, has informed the United Steelworkers union that it will discontinue health and life insurance benefits for the retirees. Jason Penney, outgoing president of Local 6285 of the USW in Wabush, said pensioners’ benefits are now being ‘yanked out from under them’ with very short notice.
Several generations of workers in Labrador have been paying into the benefit programme for a half-century, and some estimates put the number of people affected at between 700 and 800. It’s going to put some people in very difficult positions,’ Penney said.
The benefits will end on June 1, leaving many pensioners scrambling to fill prescriptions and find alternative coverage. Penney said the pensioners had an ‘extensive plan’ that covered travel and prescriptions, among other things, and paid a death benefit of between $10,000 and $12,500.