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LaborTalk   (December 6, 2006)

AFL-CIO Leaders Fail to Denounce Stern
on Health Care and Pensions

By Harry Kelber

SEIU President Andy Stern has been encouraging employers to eliminate the health-care benefit that millions of workers are enjoying as a result of collective bargaining by their unions. He says it bluntly in "A Country That Works," his new book: "It is in the economic self-interest of American business, now competing globally, to end employer-based health care."

Nor is that all. Stern also recommends that employers stop providing their workers with a guaranteed level of retirement income. He says: "Only about 34 million workers today are covered by defined benefit pensions?just under a quarter of the U.S. workforce." Stern is asking "only 34 million workers" to take far less retirement income than they were promised in order to make their employers more competitive.

Stern says that unions "need to be aligned with employers' market and industry structures and flexible enough to respond to ever-changing employer dynamics and competent enough to be good partners." And Stern adds, approvingly, that unions should assist employers "in overcoming unnecessary legislative and political obstacles to their success."

The logical outcome of Stern's pro-business proposals would be to turn the labor movement into a nation-wide company union in a "partnership," under which unions main function would be to make America's corporations more competitive (and more profitable).

There are hundreds of AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions that are engaged in collective bargaining negotiations for a new or revised contract. As in recent years, the two issues that are dominant in these negotiations are health insurance and pensions, with employers demanding concessions in both. Now, the employers can exploit the dictum of one of the nation's powerful labor leaders, Andy Stern, as a threat to stop funding health care and pension plans.

AFL- CIO Ignores Stern's Pro-Business Lobbying

One would expect AFL-CIO leaders to be alarmed at Stern's attempt to transform the union movement into an appendage of Big Business. But amazingly, neither Sweeney nor members of the Executive Council have criticized it or even mentioned it publicly. It won't be found on the web sites of the AFL-CIO or any of the 53 international union affiliates.

Not a word of critical comment of Stern's partnership proposals has appeared in any of the progressive labor publications. Labor activists, as well, have shown no concern.

The net effoct of this universal silence is to give Stern a blank check to promote his corporatist ideas. Since he is not being challenged, the public can be led to believe that the AFL-CIO leadership and rank-and-file union members approve of what Andy is doing.

If you think I've made a convincing case that Stern's partnership proposals would, if adopted, cause serious damage to the labor movement, please send me your comments by e-mail. My address is: hkelber@igc.org .

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