AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. Alex Brandon | AP
WASHINGTON—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has had it up to here with the U.S. Senate’s ruling Republicans and specifically with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Listing the three big crises facing the country, Trumka wants the GOP majority to get off its butt and help the nation’s workers.
“Numbers of coronavirus infections are rising across large parts of the country,” Trumka said in the federation’s daily brief on July 7. “Millions of Americans remain unemployed, many with no safe return to work in sight. And more than a month since George Floyd’s murder, our federal leaders still have not enacted the racial justice policies that we’re demanding.
“With the Senate in recess for the next few weeks, we have to remind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his lackeys that workers can’t wait any longer for them to act.”
This isn’t the first time Trumka has singled out McConnell by name. Answering questions after a zoom video speech to the Maine AFL-CIO earlier this year—a telecast necessary because of social distancing, quarantining, and bans on crowds due to the coronavirus—Trumka called the majority leader “evil.”
But now Trumka has a more-specific cause. McConnell refuses to even let lawmakers debate the $3 trillion Heroes Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), the latest economic stimulus bill the Democratic-run House passed last month. It’s one of more than 500 pieces of progressive legislation, including pro-worker labor laws, the majority leader has deep-sixed.
The Heroes Act would allot almost $1 trillion more in federal aid for financially ravaged states and cities. Without it, they would have to lay off firefighters, EMTs, sanitation workers, and even state jobless insurance office workers who are currently toiling overtime to help the 1.5 million or so people who, weekly, seek jobless benefits.
Already, states and cities have had to fire almost two million workers since the slump started, because their revenues crashed as joblessness rose, while the need for aid skyrocketed.
The Heroes Act would also extend the weekly $600 federal jobless aid checks from the end of July through the end of January, a time when the official U.S. unemployment rate is expected to stay above 10%.
The unofficial rate, including those jobless applicants and another 900,000 or so who weekly just seek and get the federal checks alone, is close to 30 percent, a level unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The act also would provide $25 billion to keep the Postal Service going through the end of calendar 2020. Otherwise, the USPS might run out of cash three months before, endangering the jobs of 600,000 workers, most of them, like the state and local workers, women, people of color, or both. Many if not most USPS, state, and local government workers are unionized.
The Heroes Act also would order GOP President Donald Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency standard, to take effect now, mandating businesses must develop and implement plans to protect their workers against the coronavirus. That’s a key goal of health care unions, particularly National Nurses United.
McConnell refuses to even consider the House-passed bill. He appeared to give a little bit on July 7, by saying additional federal unemployment checks should only be extended to people earning $40,000 a year or less.
“I think the people who have been hit the hardest are people who make about $40,000 a year or less, many of them work in the hospitality industry,” McConnell said at an appearance in Kentucky, where he is seeking re-election this fall.
“The hospitality industry, as all of you know, just got rim-racked—hotels, restaurants—and so that could well be a part of it,” he added, according to Yahoo! news.
McConnell also has one big, unacceptable condition to letting any aid bill through. He demands it grant businesses complete immunity for their action, or lack of it, in protecting workers and customers against the spread of the coronavirus. That’s a non-starter for Senate Democrats, the U.S. House, and for unions.