Will the Democrats Trump Trumka

Things rarely turn out the way I would have imagined them to, and President Obama and the Democrats might soon find that to be true of AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka.  I sure did.

As a young lawyer with a few years experience working for the Appellate division of the NLRB, I was asked to join with Joe Rauh  and Joseph A ("Chip") Yablonski in representing Chip's dad, "Jock" Yablonski,  who was  engaged in a rare and difficult fight for leadership of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), then under the leadership of a corrupt  man named Tony Boyle.  

After the election which was marked by fraud and cheating, we succeeded in getting the election overturned -- a first in American labor law.  Unfortunately, that came too late for Jock, who with his wife and daughter had been murdered  one night shortly after the election, an election which showed Boyle had won only with the votes of retired miners who feared loss of their pension and health benefits if they jumped ship.

In time, Tony Boyle was convicted of murder; his regime was destroyed; reform leaders took over the union and there was a more democratic leadership and organization which somewhat improved the miners' situation.

Chip was made General Counsel.  I was Associate Counsel and Chip hired Richard Trumka, a recent  law graduate, to work on the legal staff.  Our paths rarely crossed, and a few years later I left for private practice and Trumka returned to the coal fields with the rather obvious plan to run for the union presidency.  (Chip had never worked in the coalfields and, therefore, was ineligible under the union constitution to run for office.)

Chip had hoped that at last the union would in some way acknowledge at last his late father's contribution to the UMWA -- perhaps a bust of his father in the union headquarters -- but  Trumka failed even a small gesture of gratitude to a man who had done so much for the miners,

Instead his regime was marked by thuggery and violence.   In any event, his role at the UMWA was merely a stepping stone for bigger ambitions -- the Presidency of the AFL-CIO was his target. And he achieved it  in a matter of years.

In 1995 Trumka was one-third of a troika elected to head the AFL-CIO. His running mates for election were Sweeney, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Linda Chavez-Thompson, who had been Executive Vice President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Calling themselves the "New Voice," this threesome pledged to replace the policies of the moderate AFL-CIO leaders who had preceded them.  Trumka would go on to serve as the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer from 1995 to September 2009, second in command to its president, John Sweeney.

Trumka, Sweeney, and Chavez-Thompson represented a turn away from blue-collar industrial unionism and the AFL-CIO's traditional emphasis on raising wages and improving working conditions.  Rather, they focused on recruiting ever-growing numbers of government workers who would benefit from higher taxes and bigger government, and who therefore [c]ould reliably support socialism and America's pro-big government Democratic Party.

Shortly afterward Trumka twice invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination  in a Teamsters Union scandal which involved a number of prominent Democrats  in a scheme substantially identical to the money laundering operations Tony Boyle had used to secure his re-election against Yablonski, and to pay for Jock's murder.

Discover the Network has written a fine summary of those shenanigans:

One condition of the AFL-CIO merger of 1955 was that outright Communists be purged from CIO unions. The AFL-CIO in 1957 instituted a rule that required any union official invoking his Fifth Amendment right (to avoid incriminating himself before a congressional committee) to be removed from his position. But when Richard Trumka twice invoked his Fifth Amendment right in a case involving a corruption and money-laundering scandal during the late 1990s, the response by then-AFL-CIO president John Sweeney was to purge the rule instead of the rule-breaker Trumka. 

This case involved the Teamsters Union, whose president, Ron Carey, faced likely defeat in his 1996 run for re-election. According to congressional testimony, Carey agreed to raise $1 million for the Democratic National Committee if $100,000 could be provided to him immediately to finance his re-election campaign.  In this shell game, as witnesses explained it, the Teamsters Union paid $150,000 to the AFL-CIO, the same amount which its secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka immediately thereafter gave from AFL-CIO accounts to the leftwing political group Citizen Action, which within days provided $100,000 to the Carey campaign.

Among those named by witnesses and investigators as involved in this scheme to illegally fund and influence a union election were Richard Trumka, Ron Carey, Andrew Stern, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, Bill Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, and Clinton-Gore fundraiser Terry McAuliffe

When the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Peter Hoekstra started looking into this Teamsters Union scandal, he was asked by the Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White, not to subpoena McAuliffe, Ickes, Trumka and certain others on grounds that their testimony might interfere with a criminal investigation that she and the Clinton Justice Department were already pursuing. But after Hoekstra agreed to White's request, as he described it, "the entire Teamsters investigation [by White and the Clinton Justice Department] has fallen into a black hole."

Carey's re-election as President of the Teamsters Union was invalidated and he was removed from power. Small players in the case pled guilty. But, despite strong evidence against them, no criminal indictments were ever handed down by White or the Clinton Justice Department against McAuliffe, Ickes or Trumka. 

During the 2008 presidential election Trumka worked hard for Obama's election and the rewards for his contributions were quickly apparent. By February he was named to the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.  A few months after that, on September 16, he was elected president of the of the AFL-CIO.

Trumka poured  millions of union dollars into Obama's campaign and was well rewarded with access  of which he bragged just  a few months ago:

"I'm at the white House a couple times a week -- two, three times a week. I have conversations every day with someone in the White House or in the administration. Every day." 

Obama's administration has also taken unprecedented, perhaps even  illegal, steps to cater to Trumka's insatiable demands for ever more union privileges, including a $60 billion dollar tax break under the ObamaCare waivers from ObamaCare 's provisions; an unprecedented NLRB drive to prevent Boeing from moving some of its operations to another state which more favorable labor conditions; the buy up with tax dollars of failing auto companies to save the UAW benefits at the expense of share holders.

And now -- here's the deliciously ironic part -- Obama is about to learn what I did from Trumka: with him, things rarely turn out as your might expect.

Thursday Trumka announced that labor is scaling back their involvement with the Democratic Party.

Let's assume we spent $100 in the last election," he said, explaining the union's position.

"The day after Election Day, we were no stronger than we were the day before," said Trumka. "If we had spent that [$100] on creating a structure for working people that would be there year round, then we are stronger."

Hot Air outlines what a disaster this could be for Obama and his party:

That's not just an expression of disapproval with the Democratic Party.  It's a public vote of no confidence.  Unions spent heavily in the 2010 midterm elections; they accounted for three of the top five high-spending outside groups in that cycle.  They also spent tens of millions of dollars in Wisconsin this year in an attempt to wrest control of the state Senate away from Republicans, and failed to achieve their objective.  Trumka's comments make it clear that he doesn't see a great prospect of electoral success in 2012, either.[snip] This puts the AFL-CIO into a position where the creation of a third party is not just a theoretical possibility, but perhaps a likely outcome. [snip] [T]he unions have a mostly-mandated grip on the pockets of their members, thanks to closed-shop rules in many areas of the country.  They can generate hundreds of millions of dollars for elections and candidate recruitment, especially in areas of high union concentration.  Unions might not be strong enough to run their own presidential candidate, but they could win House seats and perhaps a few Senate seats as well, or more likely just provide a competitive third choice for voters.  In fact, there's really no other way to read Trumka's statement but as a threat to compete with the Democratic Party on their own terms.

And that's where the Democratic Party will suffer most.  If unions start running well-funded alternative candidates, the vote will split and allow Republicans to make gains in Congress and in state legislatures.  Either Democrats will have to start endorsing union candidates or start falling hopelessly behind the GOP in power....

On the other hand, Trumka's heavy hand has proven a disaster in Wisconsin and elsewhere and perhaps it will prove as counterproductive on a national scale.  He may be like the ill-fated gambler who keeps adding to the pot in the  futile hope of  recovering past losses. Perhaps it's  getting much less easy for unions to intimidate and buy off voters  than it used to be. As George Will notes:

During the recall tumult [in Wisconsin], unions barely mentioned either their supposed grievance about collective bargaining, or their real fears, which concern money, particularly political money. Teachers unions can no longer bargain to require school districts to purchase teachers' health insurance from the union's preferred provider, which is especially expensive. This is saving millions of dollars and reducing teacher layoffs. Also, unions must hold annual recertification votes.

And teachers unions may no longer automatically deduct dues from members' paychecks. After Colorado in 2001 required public employees unions to have annual votes reauthorizing collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent. In 2005, Indiana stopped collecting dues from unionized public employees; in 2011, there are 90 percent fewer dues-paying members. In Utah, the end of automatic dues deductions for political activities in 2001 caused teachers' payments to fall 90 percent. After a similar law passed in 1992 in Washington state, the percentage of teachers making such contributions declined from 82 to 11.

Democrats furiously oppose Walker because public employees unions are transmission belts, conveying money to the Democratic Party. Last year, $11.2 million in union dues was withheld from paychecks of Wisconsin's executive branch employees and $2.6 million from paychecks at the university across the lake. Having spent improvidently on the recall elections, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the teachers union, is firing 40 percent of its staff.







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