Labor unions are riled about President Barack Obama’s readiness to discuss Social Security cuts in debt talks, further eroding his standing among labor and raising the prospect that they will punish him at the polls in 2012.
The latest sign of dissent comes from the powerful AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 labor unions representing more than 12 million members; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with about 1.5 million members; and the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, with about 2 million members.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was adamant in his opposition to any cuts in Social Security.
“At a time when retirement security remains an elusive goal for most Americans, cuts to Social Security benefits — in whatever form they take — should not be on the table,” he said. “Furthermore, Social Security, our nation's most effective anti-poverty program, has not contributed one dime to the deficit and should not be part of any deficit-related trade-offs.
“The AFL-CIO continues to oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, including any cuts in cost of living adjustments. The best solution to our deficit problem is to create good jobs that will rebuild our economy. That should be our first priority.”
The AFL-CIO made more than $2.8 million in campaign contributions during the past two election cycles, with the vast majority going to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Chuck Loveless, legislative director for AFSCME, told The Hill
that “this is a huge political mistake for Democrats. There is no question that the senior vote moved heavily towards Republicans last election. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are bedrock issues to the Democratic base, and to the extent that there are significant cuts in these programs, Democrats will pay a political price.”
And SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said the union “cannot accept any deal on the debt limit that harms seniors, low-income Americans or adds one more worker to the unemployment rolls.”
“That means we cannot accept billions in cuts to Medicaid and Medicare,” she said. “Slashing these programs would turn seniors out of nursing homes, lead to millions of lost jobs and put more families into poverty. As the negotiations continue, Congress should also take cuts to Social Security off the table. Social Security has not added one penny to our deficit and should not be the targeted as a means toward reaching a deal.”
The comments from the union leaders come just two months after a broadside from the nation’s largest firefighters union, which decided to bail on federal candidates this election cycle. Like the AFL-CIO, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) gives the bulk of its campaign money to Democrats. In the last election cycle, Democrats received $1.9 million and Republicans just over $400,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In announcing the move to suspend federal campaign contributions, Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger blasted both parties, but said that “too few Democrats are standing up and fighting for us.”
“Over the past two years, politicians from both parties have failed to address our issues in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Now, anti-labor members of Congress and their allies are championing measures that would undermine pension security, tax employer-sponsored health benefits, force newly hired fire fighters into Social Security and attack federal fire fighters. And with no pro-fire fighter legislation likely to be advanced in the 112th Congress — it’s time to take a stand.”
Instead of fighting on the national level, Schaitberger said the IAFF would be focusing its considerable strength on GOP efforts in the states to roll back union rights.
“We know we have legislative fights, ballot measures, and recall elections that will require us to be on the offensive at the state and local level through this fall,” he said. “I expect this strategic decision to focus our resources on state and local efforts, and the freezing of federal contributions, to last as long as the fights in the states remain at such a high level and until we see some real results and leadership from those in Washington, D.C., on our members’ behalf.”
Trumka himself had fired a warning shot at Democrats in May over the collective bargaining fights in Wisconsin and Ohio. In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, he warned that the role of the AFL-CIO “is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.
“It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside—the outcome is the same either way,” he said. “If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be — now, in 2012 and beyond.”
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