AFL-CIO president: ‘Workers are united to defeat Kavanaugh’
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says labor is solidly united in opposition to the Kavanaugh nomination. | Nick Ut / AP

WASHINGTON—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the nation’s labor movement has come to a conclusion about President Donald Trump’s latest U.S. Supreme Court nominee: “Workers are united to defeat Kavanaugh,” he declares.

His statement was part of a much longer July 12 speech behind closed doors to Democratic U.S. House candidates. While Trumka did not cite specific cases and rulings, the federation previously compiled a string of anti-worker decisions and statements by federal appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh in his dozen years on the bench.

But almost simultaneously, the federation, along with the Steelworkers, AFSCME, both big teachers’ unions, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance, Workmen’s Circle, the Service Employees, the NAACP, NOW, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other organizations, signed a letter to senators outlining their specific objections to Kavanaugh on the court.

The letter, authored by the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, lists almost a dozen areas where Kavanaugh, in layman’s language, flunks.

Indeed, at one point—dealing with the judge’s statements about presidents and the law—it criticizes Kavanaugh’s now well-publicized stand that a president shouldn’t be subject even to questioning or criminal prosecution while in office.

The united opposition is important as Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., want to rush the judge’s nomination through, preferably before the High Court comes back from its summer recess on the first Monday in October and certainly before the November election.

So Trump and his staffers are putting a full-court press onto senators, notably, Democrats seeking re-election in states Trump carried in 2016, to cave in and vote for Kavanaugh.

Those politicians include Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Right-wing groups, meanwhile, have launched a multi-million-dollar pro-Kavanaugh ad campaign.

The joint letter concentrates on Kavanaugh’s judicial writings, both on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and in law review articles and speeches. They lay out a specter of an extremely conservative judge, whose name was on the list sent to Trump by the right-wing Federalist Society. That special interest group includes only four percent of the nation’s attorneys and judges, the letter notes.

A campaign graphic released by the AFL-CIO.

The letter notes Kavanaugh voted against federal workers in all three cases he handled on the court, including one that let the anti-worker GOP Bush administration impose, briefly, a non-merit pay system, leaving pay and promotion decisions for the Defense Department’s tens of thousands of civilian workers all in the hands of its bosses—with little right of appeal.

That’s in addition to his rulings against workers in general, along with his decisions and writings against the environment, for voting discrimination, against reproductive rights—unhampered by religious qualms—and against immigrants, including immigrant workers.

The joint letter cites some of the same cases the AFL-CIO uncovered involving Kavanaugh and workers’ rights just after his nomination.

“Judge Kavanaugh has a pattern of ruling against workers and employees in other types of workplace cases as well, such as workplace safety, worker privacy, and union disputes,” the letter says.

One example it cites is the case where a supposedly domesticated killer whale at SeaWorld in Florida grabbed its trainer, dragged her underwater, and drowned her. She was the fourth trainer the whale killed, the letter notes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited and fined SeaWorld, which took the agency and its judicial arm to court. The court backed OSHA, but Kavanaugh didn’t.

“Judge Kavanaugh strongly disagreed and questioned the role of the government in determining appropriate levels of risk for workers. He wrote: ‘When should we as a society paternalistically decide that the participants in these sports and entertainment activities must be protected from themselves—that the risk of significant physical injury is simply too great even for eager and willing participants?’”

“According to David Michaels, a former Occupational Safety and Health Act Assistant Secretary: ‘In his dissent in the SeaWorld decision, Judge Kavanaugh made the perverse and erroneous assertion that the law allows SeaWorld trainers to willingly accept the risk of violent death as part of their job. He clearly has little regard for workers who face deadly hazards at the workplace,’” the joint letter adds.

In a case involving the Communications Workers/NABET, Kavanaugh argued that CNN wasn’t a successor employer when it decided to take back tech positions in its D.C. and New York bureaus from the unionized firm that it had hired to staff them. CNN fired all the unionists in the process. “His position would have completely absolved CNN of any liability for failing to abide by the collective bargaining agreement,” the joint letter says.

And the joint letter repeats the points the Government Employees (AFGE) made in arguing for the civilian workers against the Defense Department.

“Judge Kavanaugh authored the majority opinion that reversed the lower court’s partial blocking of Department of Defense regulations, which found that many of the Pentagon’s regulations would ‘entirely eviscerate collective bargaining.’ Judge Kavanaugh disagreed. Judge [David] Tatel dissented in part, noting Judge Kavanaugh’s majority opinion would allow the Secretary of Defense to ‘abolish collective bargaining altogether—a position with which even the Secretary [of Defense] disagrees.’

“Before the Senate Judiciary Committee considers acting on the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, the American people have a right to know specific information about his entire record in order to gauge how his appointment to the Supreme Court would impact our rights, freedoms, and liberties,” the letter concludes.


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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.