Trumka calls on Pa. unions to support Obama

AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka addresses the opening of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO convention at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown in Philadelphia. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka addresses the opening of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO convention at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown in Philadelphia. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 27, 2012

While acknowledging the "ups and downs we've had over the past three years," the national head of the U.S. labor movement called on Pennsylvania union members Tuesday to mobilize to keep President Obama in office.

"President Obama stands on our side," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told hundreds of AFL-CIO union delegates gathered at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown in Philadelphia at the start of the Pennsylvania Federation of the AFL-CIO's three-day convention.

Much of the convention will consist of union administrative business, heavily underscored with politics. But on Thursday, the AFL-CIO will also unveil a new effort to connect start-up companies with union workers before sending delegates to attend a noon rally in support of a drive to unionize 3,000 security guards working in Philadelphia's office towers and major institutions including the University of Pennsylvania.

Trumka, who worked as a coal miner in Western Pennsylvania and earned his law degree at Villanova University, expressed disappointment that Obama's pledge to work for a law that would make it easier for unions to organize never came to fruition. But he mentioned it almost in passing, while crediting Obama with creating or saving 3.6 million jobs during the recession. He also praised the president for expanding access to health care and tightening up the banking industry.

Union members, he said, need to push back against politicians who are "less interested in doing the right thing than they are in doing the far-right thing" and against right-wing donors who are making a "blatant bid to buy our democracy. It's pretty ugly, and it's very corrupt."

Trumka urged the convention's attendees, who represent the leaders of unions around the state, to register at least 20 percent of their unregistered members and to commit to a full-court two-week intensive push prior to the November election.

Pennsylvania "is a must-win state for President Obama on his path to the White House," said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg College's Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown. The Republicans can lose Pennsylvania, he said, and still win the White House, but the Democrats need Pennsylvania, and unions are key to that party's success.

"They provide the structure and the personnel" for get-out-the-vote efforts, he said.

Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest number of union members, 779,000, according to the U.S. Labor Department and, with 14. 6 percent of its workers belonging to unions, it ranks above the national average of 11.4 percent.

U.S Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), facing reelection, will speak on Wednesday, and Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, will address the group Thursday.

Earlier in the day Thursday, delegates will turn their attention away from politics to hear about organizing new industries from Mark Kamlet, provost of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, and Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the U.S. Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration.

"We're always behind the curve on new industries," said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

Bloomingdale said start-up companies get to the point where they need workers, "but they don't know where to find workers," he said. Unions can help by taking on more of the responsibilities for recruiting and training. "We have workers who know how to manufacture," he said.

The younger entrepreneurs "don't have an animosity to unions," he said, but they also don't know very much about them.

Bloomingdale said he hopes Thursday's session will inspire local union leaders to reach out to the entrepreneurial community so the new jobs it creates will also be union jobs.

Tuesday morning's line up of speakers included James Williams, a former Philadelphian who now heads the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner ;and Philadelphia City Council president Darrell L. Clarke.

Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JaneVonBergen. Read her Jobbing blog at www.philly.com/jobbing .

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