- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Longtime union leader Richard Trumka formally announced his candidacy Thursday for president of the AFL-CIO, vowing to use social networking and other Internet-age tools to attract new members and pass the labor movement’s top legislative priority to make organizing easier.

About 300 people attended a morning rally at the University of the District of Columbia where Mr. Trumka, currently the labor group’s secretary-treasurer, announced his platform and fellow candidates — activist Liz Shuler as secretary-treasurer and Arlene Holt Baker, running for a second term as executive vice president.

The ticket’s virtually certain victory in September will be the first shake-up in the leadership of the nation’s largest labor umbrella group in 14 years, when current President John Sweeney took the helm. Mr. Trumka, former head of the United Mine Workers, would be only the fifth president of the labor giant in its 54-year history.

But even if elected, Mr. Trumka faces significant divisions within the labor movement itself. A breakaway group of unions, calling themselves Change to Win, left the AFL-CIO in 2005, saying the umbrella group has not done enough to organize and attract new members. The rift has persisted, despite efforts to re-unify the movement.

The leadership transition also comes as labor groups look to large Democratic majorities in Congress and a sympathetic President Obama to help shepherd the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and other labor-backed bills to passage.

EFCA’s most controversial provision would allow unions to begin organizing work sites where a majority of workers sign a card indicating their support — a “card-check” system opposed by virtually all business groups. EFCA also would mandate government arbitration of labor disputes when management and a new union can’t agree on a first contract.

“It wasn’t organized labor who created the godawful mess our country is in, but were the ones who can get it out,” the 59-year-old Mr. Trumka said, speaking to an audience of trade and public sector workers.

“We need three things in the new legislation: the ability to organize without illegal opposition from companies, strict penalties they’ll be forced to comply with, and a place for conflict resolution,” Mr. Trumka said.

Organized labor, which strongly backed Mr. Obama in 2008, is also expected to play a major role as Congress works through massive bills dealing with health care reform and climate change.

Analysts say Mr. Trumka and the AFL-CIO think now is the perfect time to win favorable changes to labor laws.

“EFCA would be a gold mine for the union right now,” said Bryan O’Keefe, an independent labor specialist. “The intimidation would be rampant with this thing. And it’s an easy way to boost union membership significantly.”

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, predicted Thursday that Democrats would have a hard time passing the “deceptively titled and dangerous” EFCA, given divisions within the Democratic caucus and the absence of ailing senior Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

“This thing will hit businesses both large and small,” Mr. Thune said. “Democrats and labor are working on a compromise, but there cant be a compromise on things like card check and mandatory arbitration.”

Mr. Trumka worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines next to his father before earning a law degree and becoming a union organizer. Best known for leading a 1989 walkout of 1,700 coal workers in Appalachia, he promised a 1,000-strong organizer “strike force” that would be ready to guarantee the regulation of EFCA after it’s signed.

“We do not intend to leave a single individual behind when it comes to organizing,” he promised. “Well help every worker who wants a union contract get one.”

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