AFL-CIO OK's Worker Bill of Rights as Political Litmus Test

AFL-CIO convention delegates adopted a Workers Bill of Rights that federation President Richard Trumka described as “a collective bargaining agreement for America.” 

“It’ll provide political candidates and elected officials with a litmus test for our support,” Trumka said in introducing the measure.

Several delegates said the right to organize is an essential part of the Bill of Rights agenda. “I have seen what happens to workers who try to go it on their own,” said Jessica Akers Hughes of the Arkansas AFL-CIO. “No worker should have to risk their job to join together.”

Convention leaders put the Bill of Rights at the top of their priority list, labeling it Resolution Number 1.  A video of workers supporting its provisions was played. The Bill of Rights demands “a good job with fair wages,” along with “quality health care regardless of income, job or pre-existing conditions.”

Other sections of the Bill of Rights include paid time off for family and medical leave, freedom from discrimination in hiring, firing and promotions, publicly paid education all the way from kindergarten through college, an end to “discrimination in voting” and “freedom to join together, whether in a union or not.

“This includes all of our primary goals,” said United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts, the resolutions committee chair. “I want us to use it as a tool in organizing and politics.”

Delegates emphasized individual sections of the measure. Retail Wholesale and Department Store Workers union President Stuart Appelbaum lauded its stand against discrimination in hiring and firing. “It plagues women and people of color” as well as lesbians, transgender people and gays,” he said.

And Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez declared “no child should worry when a parent goes to work that he or she will not return home that night.”

 “In a rugged economy, workers are at the mercy of employers who can fire them at will,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the Social Security employees’ sector of the Government Employees. “This is not acceptable. It’s a stacked deck,” he said.

“Employer greed is no longer acceptable. Unions must stand with all working people – union and non-union,” he said.

Workers on a video touting the resolution sounded the same themes. One said “at will” work should be banned, with the only firings being for cause.

“It should be illegal for employers to lie, intimidate and harass workers who are trying to form a union,” the final worker on the film said.

The Worker Bill of Rights the delegates approved has been in development for months. Trumka mentioned it at a conference in Washington, D.C., in April 2016. But he did not view it as a litmus test then, or even early in the convention week. Asked what the AFL-CIO would do if a political hopeful agreed with the measure on all but one point, his answer then was that labor would put pressure on the person to come around. Now the answer has changed.

“We are committed to rewriting the economic rules,” Roberts said in closing the debate. “We will not support any politician that will not support our freedom to negotiate.”