State AFL-CIO chief urges union solidarity

Published March 2012 Voice

Despite the differences in their work, there is a common bond between teachers and other public employees, and those who work in the private sector as carpenters, welders, and in other building trades: their livelihoods.

Therefore, it is critical for all those workers to understand the connection, and to join together in electing public officials who understand and support labor.

That was the message Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale delivered to the PSEA December House of Delegates in Pittsburgh.

“If you don’t think what happens in the private sector affects you, you are dead wrong,’’ Bloomingdale said. “Is there a Japanese auto worker who pays property taxes in your school district? Probably not. Is there a worker who makes an American product who pays property taxes in your school district? Probably.’’

Conversely, he said workers in building trades, for example, want to have the best teachers and support professionals in public schools because they send their own children there.

It is these types of examples that Bloomingdale said private and public sector union members must jointly message to the public and elected officials.

“It’s a powerful thing when a building trades worker says he supports public schools’’ Bloomingdale said. “It’s a powerful thing when a teacher says I support prevailing wages because I want the best craftsmen building my school so the roof doesn’t cave in on me and my students.’’

In introducing him, PSEA President Michael J. Crossey noted Bloomingdale is a history buff who believes “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’’

Alluding to his introduction, Bloomingdale said one of the most successful military strategies throughout history has been “to divide and conquer your enemy.’’ That is exactly the strategy anti-union forces are using now, he said.

Rank-and-file workers in the private sector are being encouraged to complain about teachers, and other public employees, according to Bloomingdale.

“Somehow we caused the Great Recession of 2008,’’ he said. “It wasn’t greedy bankers or risk takers on Wall Street. It was us. Our pensions, our health care, our salaries have somehow become the problem.’’

Bloomingdale bemoaned the lack of in-depth and up-to-date teaching on labor history in public schools. The reason, he said, is that “major corporations don’t want kids coming out of high school knowing the value of organizing and collective bargaining. They’ve fought to keep it out.’’

Students, he said, should know that before workers organized in the steel industry, “people were getting killed, people were getting fired every day, and four or five families were living together in one row house.’’

Bloomingdale said labor history provides a great economic lesson: “When the middle class was built, wages went up, and tax revenues went up.’’

Speaking of taxes, he said labor must not shy away from talking about tax increases.

“I’m not saying revenue enhancements, I’m saying tax increases; I’ll call them what they are,’’ Bloomingdale said. “But remember we live off of tax revenue.’’

However, he said it’s important that taxes be made fairer between the rich and the middle class, and in Pennsylvania he pointed to imposing taxes on natural gas drilling companies in the Marcellus Shale, and closing the Delaware Loophole as ways to increase state revenues.

“We need to elect politicians who support such proposals, and it doesn’t matter from which political party,’’ Bloomingdale said. “The AFL-CIO is not a political party. We have a simple philosophy. We support those who support us.’’  



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