AFL-CIO OK's Worker Bill of Rights as Political Litmus Test

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

AFL-CIO convention delegates adopted a Workers Bill of Rights that federation President Richard Trumka described as “a collective bargaining agreement for America.” 

“It’ll provide political candidates and elected officials with a litmus test for our support,” Trumka said in introducing the measure.

Several delegates said the right to organize is an essential part of the Bill of Rights agenda. “I have seen what happens to workers who try to go it on their own,” said Jessica Akers Hughes of the Arkansas AFL-CIO. “No worker should have to risk their job to join together.”

Convention leaders put the Bill of Rights at the top of their priority list, labeling it Resolution Number 1.  A video of workers supporting its provisions was played. The Bill of Rights demands “a good job with fair wages,” along with “quality health care regardless of income, job or pre-existing conditions.”

Other sections of the Bill of Rights include paid time off for family and medical leave, freedom from discrimination in hiring, firing and promotions, publicly paid education all the way from kindergarten through college, an end to “discrimination in voting” and “freedom to join together, whether in a union or not.

“This includes all of our primary goals,” said United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts, the resolutions committee chair. “I want us to use it as a tool in organizing and politics.”

Delegates emphasized individual sections of the measure. Retail Wholesale and Department Store Workers union President Stuart Appelbaum lauded its stand against discrimination in hiring and firing. “It plagues women and people of color” as well as lesbians, transgender people and gays,” he said.

And Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez declared “no child should worry when a parent goes to work that he or she will not return home that night.”

 “In a rugged economy, workers are at the mercy of employers who can fire them at will,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the Social Security employees’ sector of the Government Employees. “This is not acceptable. It’s a stacked deck,” he said.

“Employer greed is no longer acceptable. Unions must stand with all working people – union and non-union,” he said.

Workers on a video touting the resolution sounded the same themes. One said “at will” work should be banned, with the only firings being for cause.

“It should be illegal for employers to lie, intimidate and harass workers who are trying to form a union,” the final worker on the film said.

The Worker Bill of Rights the delegates approved has been in development for months. Trumka mentioned it at a conference in Washington, D.C., in April 2016. But he did not view it as a litmus test then, or even early in the convention week. Asked what the AFL-CIO would do if a political hopeful agreed with the measure on all but one point, his answer then was that labor would put pressure on the person to come around. Now the answer has changed.

“We are committed to rewriting the economic rules,” Roberts said in closing the debate. “We will not support any politician that will not support our freedom to negotiate.” 

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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