Governor Tom Corbett has made it clear he respects public employee unions’ right to collective bargaining. That isn’t enough for the AFL-CIO’s national president, Richard Trumka, who visited Harrisburg Monday afternoon for a fundraiser thrown by House Democrat Bill DeWeese.
The Corbett Administration is in the midst of budget negotiations with 17 public employees unions, and wants state workers to accept four percent pay cuts and furlough days. But, in a departure from the way other Republican governors across the country have treated labor, Corbett has negotiated with unions in good faith, in the weeks before the June 30th deadline for new deals.
Trumka, a western Pennsylvania native, said he isn’t impressed. “It’s a step up, but we still ought to be going in the same direction, to create jobs,” he said. “And we shouldn’t have everything off the table. You shouldn’t sign a pledge before you take office that say you’ll do no revenue enhancers, and then say, we don’t have the money for education, we don’t have the money to job create. That puts the public at a disadvantage.” He later added Corbett and House Republican leaders’ plan to bank $540 million of unexpected tax revenue in a rainy day fund, rather than spend it, “isn’t fair.”
How can a state government create jobs when it’s facing a multi-billion dollar structural deficit? Trumka, taking a page from Governor Rendell’s old playbook, said the answer is, “infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure,” explaining, “It puts people back to work, it makes us more competitive as a nation, and it ultimately makes us more environmentally sound. There’s retrofitting we can do to buildings that exist. We can put hundreds of thousands of people back to work retrofitting and greening buildings up. There’s money to be done with all of that.”
When a reporter floated the suggestion Republicans had won power in Pennsylvania and Washington by campaigning against the very government spending that’s needed for massive infrastructure projects, Trumka disagreed. “What they argued for is that they’re going to do job creation. …And now they’re doing everything but job creation. And that’s why their poll numbers are falling like a large rock in a deep pond.”
Other notable quotes from Trumka’s session with reporters: he said a “right to work” bill in front of the House, which would give public employees the right to opt out of unions, will never become law. Why? “Because we will stop it, and most people understand it’s a foolhardy thing. It results in lower wages for state workers – for everybody, private and public employees. What legislator actually wants to lower wages for people in the state, at a time when they’re struggling to get by?”
And finally, Trumka told the press he was at the DeWeese fundraiser due to “45 years of friendship.” We asked why he thought DeWeese won reelection, despite facing multiple corruption charges for allegedly conducting campaign work with state resources. Trumka chalked it up to years of dedicated service. “You can’t go to a township in his district – which happens to be my home district, by the way – where people haven’t been helped, because of Bill’s efforts,” he said. “He never forgot that. He probably knows that district better than anybody, and he’s probably talked to every constituent in that district at least once. He works hard.”