The labor debate over the 2010 health care law comes at an awkward moment, when the AFL-CIO is trying to broaden its reach and join with other left-leaning groups to be more effective at countering conservative movements steeped in the tea party.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is reportedly working on forming alliances with groups such as the NAACP and the Sierra Club, as well as trying to attract more union members as a way to counteract labor’s declining influence.
“In everything we do, we have to join together with partners and allies who share our values and our vision for America,” Trumka said during a speech Monday to the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles.
That effort got a significant boost earlier this month, when the United Food and Commercial Workers rejoined the AFL-CIO, patching up the disagreements that had sparked a messy divorce in 2005.
But getting everybody on the same page won’t be easy, and the dispute over the health care law is an example of that. While some unions have been vocal in their complaints, particularly the roofers union, which has called for a repeal of the 2010 law, Trumka has tried to downplay labor’s concerns, emphasizing the positive effects of the act.
Other divisions could emerge with the Sierra Club. The environmental group has been steadfast in its opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But the Building Trades Unions, part of the AFL-CIO, has backed the pipeline.
Those differences are not insurmountable, according to Trumka.
“You’re going to have places where you disagree and where you agree,” he told reporters last month. “What we’re trying to do is create a process where we have the ability to sit down and talk about those things and we can minimize the number of areas where we disagree.”
Having progressives focused solely on their own parochial concerns “doesn’t get us anywhere,” Trumka added.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.