Activists to March on Washington for Health Care, Workers’ Issues
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The AFL-CIO and other groups marching on Washington this weekend hope to put a spotlight on what they call Bush administration and congressional neglect of working Americans’ needs.
″Politicians seem unable to come forth with solutions for health care, the economy, jobs,″ said John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
″These are issues that not only impact union members, but all of the middle class, which is the backbone of this country,″ Sturdivant said.
The 14.2-million-member AFL-CIO and about 180 other civil rights, environmental and religious groups are putting on a ″Solidarity Day″ march Saturday on the National Mall.
Organizers hope to have at least 200,000 demonstrators turn out for the Labor Day weekend event. A similar march in 1981 drew a crowd of about that size, and labor felt it sent a message to Washington policymakers.
″Maybe Ronald Reagan never got the phone call, but Congress did, and it did build some spine in them,″ said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Bush’s refusal to declare an emergency so jobless benefits could be extended to the long-term unemployed is the latest example of the administration’s negligence, labor officials said.
″For Bush to sit in Kennebunkport and say there is no national emergency means George Bush has blinders on,″ said Jo-Ann Mort, a spokeswoman for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union.
Congress deserves blame, too, labor officials said, because it waited until the recession was a year old before even acting on the benefits legislation.
No politicians were invited to speak to Saturday’s crowd.
″We come to talk to the members of Congress, not to hear from them,″ AFL- CIO spokesman Rex Hardesty said.
President Bush will still be vacationing in Maine while Congress’ August recess continues.
Working Americans, labor officials said, need to demand that elected officials pay more attention to schools, health care, civil rights, parental leave, child care, pension protection and fair trade.
″Workers are sick and tired of what’s happening to them,″ said George Kourpias, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Organized labor also wants to show that the union movement is still alive, despite a drain in membership that occurred at the same time labor felt it took a beating from former President Reagan’s policies.
Unions - traditionally some of the biggest campaign donors - also want to remind politicians that they could play a role in next year’s elections.
″Notwithstanding the union-bashing and busting that’s taken place over the past 11 years, the union movement is very viable, and we’re going to show our muscle this time around,″ Kourpias said.
Besides issues such as health care that affect all Americans, organizers want to call attention to two issues specific to unions: the hiring of permanent replacement workers during strikes and workers’ right to organize and belong to unions.
A bill to outlaw permanent replacements, which unions contend is critical to guaranteeing workers’ ability to strike, has passed the House but faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Even with congressional approval, it would face a likely veto because the administration believes it unfairly tilts the collective bargaining balance toward unions.
A business group opposed to the bill, the Alliance to Keep Americans Working, said the legislation would breed strikes and ultimately cost jobs.
″Labor Day is not Organized Workers Day. It is All Workers Day,″ the alliance said in a statement.
On a related front, march organizers want to highlight federal labor law, which they say is stacked against unions in trying to organize workers.
Labor officials complain that employers can ignore federal law and fire workers who become active with a union, and then not have to face, for months or even years, punishment from the National Labor Relations Board.
″It’s a reign of economic terror that is just as oppressive, in effect, as a tank or a gun barrel,″ said Rich Trumka, president of the United Mine Workers.