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AFL-CIO Opens Meeting With Call For Anti-Recession Jobs Program

February 18, 1991

BAL HARBOUR, Fla. (AP) _ AFL-CIO leaders on Monday issued a call for a major jobs program to combat the recession by putting Americans back to work rebuilding the nation’s highways and housing stock.

Congress and the White House should spend as much effort fighting the recession as the Persian Gulf War, leaders of the 14.2 million-member labor federation said at the opening of their annual winter meeting.

″We seem to be able to mobilize the resources of our country for Desert Storm and bailing out the savings and loans, but we haven’t been doing it for our unemployed workers,″ said John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The AFL-CIO’s 33-member Executive Council began its four-day meeting by voting to recommend quick implementation of a program to put the nation’s 7.7 million jobless back to work.

Americans could be put to work helping to rebuild the nation’s highways, bridges and transit systems and by building housing and providing child care, the labor federation said. No specific legislative proposal was offered.

The AFL-CIO’s anti-recession program also called on Congress to revive the nation’s deteriorating unemployment insurance system, which is providing benefits to less than a third of the nation’s jobless.

AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland urged Congress to ignore President Bush’s threat to veto a jobs program.

″Veto threats are more or less routine attempts to discourage Congress from acting on a measure. I do not think Congress should be intimidated by it,″ Kirkland told reporters after the governing board’s meeting.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Thomas Foley agreed the nation’s highways and bridges needed repair, and that rebuilding those systems would help put Americans to work. Foley was one of three top Democratic politicians who met with the labor group Monday.

″While the president has threatened to veto any specific anti-recession legislation, we have a backlog in needs for developing infrastructure. ... I think we ought to increase the levels of spending in that area,″ Foley said.

Asked about Bush’s prediction that it would be a short recession, Kirkland said high unemployment rates would persist for months or years even if the economy does rebound quickly.

″He and his advisers were saying there won’t be a recession not too long ago. Now they’re saying it’s short,″ Kirkland said.

In other action, union leaders passed a resolution backing legislation that would outlaw the hiring of permanent replacement workers during strikes. Kirkland said the practice - used by Eastern Airlines, Greyhound Bus Lines and now the New York Daily News - effectively takes away workers’ right to strike under federal law.

″The thing about this practice of lining up permanent replacements is it nullifies the inherent obligation of an employer ... to bargain in good faith,″ Kirkland said.

Meanwhile, union leaders continued negotiations in search of a compromise on health care reform. Some of the leaders want a government-financed national health insurance plan like Canada’s, while the other side is backing less dramatic reform.

The faction favoring less drastic changes received a boost from Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and Foley, who said a national health insurance plan wouldn’t make it through Congress this year.

″I don’t believe we can or will enact any form of national health insurance in this Congress and I prefer to concentrate my efforts on reforming the current system and building upon it,″ Mitchell told reporters after meeting with union leaders.

House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, who also met with council members, said, ″I don’t have the answer yet. It’s a complex, tough issue, but we’ve got to do something to help health care.″

Labor leaders said the White House has ignored how the economic downturn has hit working Americans.

″It’s obvious the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to the recession and is completely enveloped in the Persian Gulf War,″ said Gerald McAntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

″We support our troops just as much as anyone else, but we want them to have jobs to come home to,″ McAntee said.

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