Trumka proposes universal federal jobs payments
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka | AFGE

WASHINGTON —Sticking to a here-and-now solution to coronavirus-caused joblessness, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka proposed the federal government guarantee paid employment – by actually shelling out the money – for all workers. Employers would be a pass-through, nothing more.

In a 13-minute speech posted on the federation’s Facebook page, Trumka said that with unemployment at highs unseen since the Great Depression and with the future clouded by millions of jobless people, now is not the time for partisan politics.

Instead he declared, lawmakers should unite, as some already have, behind federal subsidies straight into workers’ pockets, and not to CEOs or Wall Street.

Trumka also warned, as public health specialists have, against reopening the economy too soon. Right-wing pressure has forced some states to yield and start reopening businesses, even without enough coronavirus testing, a lack Trumka pointed out. Doing so, he declared, could put us right back down again.

“If we reopen before we’re ready, if we reopen because we’re impatient, if you send workers into unsafe workplaces, if you send consumers into an unsafe community, we’ll be reopening an economic wound that will make it much harder to heal down the road.

“Impatience and imprudence will create a catastrophe of sickness, of joblessness and of economic collapse.”

Though Trumka did not say so, seven states – all “red” and GOP-run – never totally shut. At least one, South Dakota, already paid a jarring price at one of its biggest employers, the Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls: 900 workers are ill and two died so far.

And the economic collapse is already here. Trumka spoke the day before the Labor Department’s release of the monthly jobs report for April. That report will showed one huge impact of the mass closures and shutdowns forced by the coronavirus pandemic – as many as 50 million workers are unemployed.

Coupled with the seven million jobless before April, and an estimated 10 million who have given up trying to seek benefits because they can’t get through to antiquated and overburdened state jobless aid agencies, Trumka calculated there could be up to 50 million unemployed people overall.

Those are people who want to work and who, Trumka said, realize that we can’t go back to “normal,” because “workers realize the old normal wasn’t working” for them.

Trumka didn’t propose long-range “new normal” solutions. Those are posted on the federation’s website. Others, in and out of Congress, have proposed drastic restructuring of the U.S. economy to make sure it works for workers, including stripping corporate executives of power, seating workers on boards, and confiscatory taxes on capital and wealth.

But Trumka said politicians ranging from conservative Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., all advocate the guaranteed pay. Others should follow their lead, he stated.

Jayapal and the rest of the 95-member caucus are trying to get her guaranteed income bill, which would subsidize pay of up to $100,000 per worker, plus health insurance coverage, into the next economic stimulus bill. With Hawley as a notable exception, the overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans detest and oppose the idea.

They prefer shoveling more money at business, or – in the case of powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — not acting at all. That won’t work, Trumka said, calling out McConnell by name.

“Working people will suffer in a way we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Our economy will come apart because nothing works when people aren’t working.”

And “losing health care in the middle of a recession is bad enough. But losing it in the middle of a pandemic – with no end in sight? That’s criminal,” he said. He noted 12 million have already lost health care and predicted millions of others will follow.

McConnell also wants to let states and cities go broke, an idea Trumka denounced, calling out the Kentuckian’s bias against “blue,” Democratic-run, states. “That’s not a solution. That’s a scam,” Trumka said.

“Forcing first responders” – like nurses – “and teachers and other public workers into unemployment is a drag on the economy and a danger to all of us. How on earth will we beat the virus without them?” he asked.

And individual workers and their families are suffering, he pointed out. And those workers aren’t just numbers, he said, citing two workers, one a school custodian in Florida and the other a restaurant cook in Philadelphia. Both were laid off; both have dependents who rely on them. The cook hasn’t gotten jobless benefits yet.

“No one should be living by a prayer,” as she is, “and hanging by a thread,” Trumka said.


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.