Workers’ Bill of Rights: Labor’s litmus test for 2018
Scene from the AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis. | AFL-CIO

ST. LOUIS (PAI)—Calling it “a collective bargaining agreement for America,” AFL-CIO convention delegates enacted a Workers’ Bill of Rights on the closing day of their conclave here.

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

Several delegates put the right to organize at the top of that 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 to form a union.”

Convention leaders put the Bill of Rights at the top of their priority list, labeling it Resolution #1, and showing a video of workers being interviewed supporting its provisions. It 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 Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, chair of the convention’s resolutions committee. “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 President Stuart Appelbaum lauded its stand against discrimination in hiring and firing. Describing the effects of such discrimination, Appelbaum said, “It plagues women and people of color” as well as lesbians, transgender people and gays such as himself.

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.

“Employer greed is no longer acceptable. Unions must stand with all working people – union and non-union,” he said. And workers on a video touting the resolution sounded the same themes. One said that at-will work (work at the bosses’ pleasure) should be banned, with the only firings being for cause.

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

The Workers’ Bill of Rights the delegates approved has been in development for months. Trumka mentioned it at a conference in 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 was that labor would put pressure on the person to come around.

“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.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.