The AFL-CIO unions have issued a warning to the Democrats about proposed Medicare cuts, telling them, ‘Don’t try it … we will never forget.’
As the irreconcilable gulf between the Democrats and the unions widens, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka warned the party this week about bargaining with Republicans on entitlement spending.
Richard Trumka said in a speech in Las Vegas, ‘No politician … and I don’t care the political party … will get away with cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.
‘Don’t try it. This warning goes double for Democrats. We will never forget, we will never forgive and we will never stop working to end your career.’
Whereas AFL-CIO leaders had in the past threatened to merely withhold support for such Democrats, Trumka said they would now actively oppose them during future primary races, using massive amounts of political money.
Among entitlement spending issues, the ‘chained CPI,’ an inflation index that would slow cost-of-living increases for entitlement beneficiaries, has been declared a red line by unions.
With support from some Congressional Democrats, President Obama included the chained CPI in his 2014 federal budget, pairing the compromise item with extra funding to help the elderly and poor.
Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s policy director, referred to the new cost-of-living index, in an interview last week with The Washington Post, as ‘the vampire of American politics,’ which ‘keeps being shot through the heart [but] keeps reviving.’
Likewise, Trumka said he had a ‘sinking feeling that too many politicians are ready to put the hurt on regular working people,’ arguing in favour of increases for Social Security payments.
On federal policy, the labour leader described the climate of fear in America today because of the economic collapse.
‘Millions of Americans are afraid Social Security might not be there for them,’ he said.
‘We cannot listen to that fear and believe Social Security is the problem. It isn’t, the fear is.
‘Instead of cutting Social Security, which will make the fear come true, we should, as a nation, invest in Social Security. Increase benefits.’
In the speech, directed toward the annual conference of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Trumka also criticised Obama on limitations of the Affordable Care Act.
Although Obamacare represents a ‘significant step forward,’ according to Trumka, the administration has angered unions by refusing to extend government subsidies to multi-employer healthcare plans administered by unions, as opposed to major insurance companies.
‘This is one of my top priorities, and we’re going to keep talking with the federal government agencies and the White House and Congress regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act until we get what we want and need,’ he said.
Meanwhile, the right wing is patting themselves on the back with conservative media commentator Ann Coulter praising Congressional Republicans for their stalwart goal-line stand against Obamacare, which shuttered much of the federal government – worldwide – for 16 days this month.
‘The shutdown was so magnificent, run beautifully,’ she said on Monday. ‘I’m so proud of these Republicans, and that is because they have branded the Republican Party as the anti-Obamacare party.’
Yet, other conservatives remained unconvinced of the utility of the federal government shutdown, which cost some $28 billion.
Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, a former Reagan White House speechwriter and MSNBC personality, criticised Republican leaders for managing political stagecraft without achieving any goals.
‘Republicans should refuse to raise the white flag and insist on an honourable avenue of retreat,’ Buchanan wrote in his longstanding column last week.
‘And if Harry Reid’s Senate demands the GOP end the sequester on federal spending, or be blamed for a debt default, the party should, Samson-like, bring down the roof of the temple on everybody’s head.’
In contrast to Coulter’s heroes, Buchanan characterised Congressional Republicans as a ‘basket of wimps’.
Some two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expressed dissatisfaction with the government shutdown, in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
l Unions representing grocery employees in Washington state say they have a tentative agreement with four major chains after a strike was threatened.
Last month, an overwhelming majority of union members voted to authorise a strike, citing concerns over a proposed wage freeze and cuts to holiday pay, sick leave and health-care benefits.
Talks began last March, two months before their contract expired, and continued off and on until an escalation two weeks ago.
Earlier on Monday, union workers prepared for a strike by making hundreds of picket signs with the motto ‘Stand Together.’ Stores, meanwhile, had posted help-wanted signs for temporary replacements.
It would have been the first local grocery strike since 1989, when about 8,000 workers for Albertsons, Fred Meyer and Safeway, as well as smaller chains, walked off the job or were locked out for 11 weeks.
Thousands of grocery-store workers in the Puget Sound region were expecting to walk off the job in protest at inadequate pay.
Grocery worker Scott Anderson said as the news broke, ‘It was a weird day,’ he added. ‘Waiting to strike made it hard to produce things in the deli, but we are all very relieved that we are not striking today.’
The agreement was reached just two hours before a 7pm strike deadline.
Neither side however has released details of the proposed contract.
Union negotiators said they unanimously recommended the new contract, but workers still must give their approval after they review the terms. Vote meetings are now to be arranged.
Talks between the unions and four grocery chains – Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and QFC – affected about 21,000 workers in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Mason counties.
Union spokesman Tom Geiger, who represents United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), said labour negotiators are ‘very pleased’ with the proposed new terms, and that’s ‘reflected in their unanimous recommendation’.
Allied Employers, which represented the companies throughout negotiations, said in a statement that the agreement ‘continues to preserve good wages, secure pensions and access to quality, affordable health care for our employees’.