Trumka praised by labor unity negotiators

Union negotiators crucial to engineering a unified labor movement have praised the likely next president of the AFL-CIO who will have a key role in bringing unions back together.

In under two weeks’ time, Richard Trumka is expected to be elected president of America’s largest labor union at the group’s convention in Pittsburgh. The AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer will have to be a vital cog in healing wounds left over from a 2005 split in the federation that led to the creation of the Change To Win labor coalition.

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“Rich Trumka will play an incredibly important role in the unification-slash-reunification,” said David Bonior, chairman of American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group. “He is committed to bringing the labor movement together. He is bright, thoughtful, aggressive at the right moment and is also a strong proponent for accountability.”

“Rich is a very strong voice for working families and workers. He has been in the labor movement for a long time,” said Anna Burger, chairwoman of Change to Win.

Bonior, a former Democratic congressman from Michigan, is leading negotiations for a coordinating committee of the country’s biggest unions that is working toward a unified labor movement.

During a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor for reporters Wednesday, John Sweeney said the biggest disappointment of his 14 years as AFL-CIO president was seeing several unions leave the federation.

“There was no good reason for it,” Sweeney said. “We are stronger and more effective with a united labor movement.”

At the same breakfast, Trumka said unions inside and outside of the AFL-CIO have been unified already at least on their political agenda, whether it has been healthcare reform, legislation to make union organizing much easier or the election of President Barack Obama.

“We have been unified in purpose on a lot of the major issues. We will continue to work and try to have unity in name if that also brings us unity in purpose,” said Trumka, a former president of the United Mine Workers.

Trumka said his election as AFL-CIO president should encourage labor to unify and he believed several unions will affiliate with the AFL-CIO again in short order.

“I think it is going to help. I have a record of bringing people together. And they are looking for strong leadership and I think I can provide that,” Trumka said.

But the question of what a new labor coalition will look like still remains up in the air. It is not certain that unions will return to the AFL-CIO banner but they could form a new organization under a different name.

“They are talking about creating something new,” Burger said. “The question is: Are we ready to be a 21st century labor movement? Capital is global, the economy is global, workers are global. We need to be global too.”

Burger believes the move away from the AFL-CIO by several groups was still the right thing to do. But it is important now for the labor movement to speak with one voice to the Obama White House since the president campaigned on many of their initiatives.

“We do have an incredible opportunity because we have an administration that is much more worker-friendly,” Burger said.

The coordinating committee has been meeting regularly to discuss labor’s legislative agenda, but Burger expects it will focus more on its own internal leadership structure after Trumka’s election. Bonior said the panel is planning to educate state and local unions as well as other labor leaders on what has been proposed for a unified movement.

“We are in a phase now where we have to reach out to more people in the labor movement,” Bonior said.