Trumka Voices ‘Dissent’ From Obama’s Corporate-Backed Jobs Council Report

Mike Elk

Strong criticism comes as labor federation withholds re-election endorsement

WASHINGTON D.C. — In a sign of what could be growing political independence from the White House, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Tuesday strongly criticized the latest report issued by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competiveness. The Council’s Roadmap to Renewal” report, released that day, recommended corporate tax cuts, deregulation and government budgets cuts.

“[R]eforming our regulatory system and reducing the statutory corporate tax rate are not not crucial elements of competitiveness” for the United States going forward, nor does empirical evidence support the claim that significant net new job creation would result from such reforms,” Trumka said in what he called constructive dissent.”

He didn’t attend the Council’s Tuesday meeting at the White House because he was sick, according to the AFL-CIO. The other labor leader on the 25-member Council, United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen, did attend the meeting. But on this video of the meeting, Hansen appeared to be the only Council who abstained from approving the report, saying, I certainly think there’s been an awful lot of good work in the report, but I choose to abstain at this time. … My concern is with the tax reform.”

President Obama issued a laudatory statement, saying I’m proud that we’ve taken action on a majority of the Council’s recommendations on issues ranging from insourcing to permitting to clean energy.”

Trumka also criticized the composition of Obama’s Job Council, which is made up of 23 corporate executives and two labor leaders, saying, I believe strongly that the Jobs Council’s membership is simply too narrowly representative of our country to provide a balanced set of recommendations to the President in these critical areas…. As a result, the report addresses regulatory issues as if we were not in the midst of a prolonged economic crisis whose proximate causes clearly included inadequate regulation of business, and in particular financial markets and institutions.”

The labor federation president added,

Perhaps most profoundly, the report does not ask the critical question: why is our country suffering a manufacturing crisis, complete with massive job loss and a structural trade deficit, when countries with higher overall taxes, higher wages, and more robust health, safety and environmental regulations are enjoying trade surpluses? 

The answer lies in the view that we share with so many of our fellow Americans: that our country has become dominated by the interests of the wealthiest 1% at the expense of the remaining 99%. It turns out that a country run in the interests of the wealthiest 1% systematically underinvests in public goods; systematically silences, disempowers, and underinvests in its workers; and in the end is less competitive and creates fewer jobs than a country that focuses on the interests of the 99%. 

UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend, who last year criticized Trumka for not publicly denouncing the Council’s leader, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, when GE was pushing concessions on UE workers, applauded Trumka’s dissent. 

I applaud brother Trumka’s refusal to sign on to the jobs council report. I urge brother Hansen to refuse likewise. … President Obama and his inner circle had better own up to the fact that the business model of most U.S. companies is to cut jobs, cut wages, and cut benefits.”

Trumka’s refusal to sign onto the Jobs Council report maybe a sign of new political indepenence for the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO has not endorsed President Obama for re-election, unlike unions including AFSCME, SEIU, NEA and UFCW.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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