Can labor unions and environmental groups overcome their longstanding differences to form an effective political alliance? How much can they shape how Congress deals with climate change? Do they have the power to block President Bush's CAFTA trade pact? In today's OnPoint interview, Bob Baugh, executive director of AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Council, and Bill Klinefelter, legislative director for the United Steel Workers of America, about new green and blue-collar alliances.
Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Brian Stempeck. Joining us today is Bob Baugh, executive director of AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Council, and also Bill Kleinfelter, legislative and political director at the United Steelworkers of America. Bob, Bill, thanks a lot for joining us today.
Bob Baugh: Thank you.
Bill Kleinfelter: Thank you.
Brian Stempeck: I want to start off with a real broad question right now. One thing we're seeing a lot more recently is more teamwork between the unions and environmental groups, traditionally not the best of friends, coming out on a lot of issues lately where they're kind of teaming up, energy independence, climate change, things like that. Bob, why is that happening recently?
Bob Baugh: Common interests, very clearly common interests and we're dealing at a time with an administration that is doing lots of things that's upsetting both parties here and I think that brings people together to say, "Where can we agree? What can we work on together?"
Brian Stempeck: Bill, how do you see it?
Bill Kleinfelter: Well, for the Steelworkers Union, our history with environmental activity goes all the way back to 1969. We had our first Clean Air conference before there was even a Clean Air Act and we were involved with all the major pieces of environmental legislation all through the seventies, eighties and nineties. So it's a continuation of what we've done with the national environmental groups that now it's branching out into a more grassroots, interconnected, local union, local activist activities.
Brian Stempeck: One activity that you've both been involved on is The Apollo Alliance, basically a coalition of labor groups, industry groups, environmental groups and some security experts as well, who are basically saying we need a broader plan for energy independence. Can you, Bob, tell us a little bit more about that?
Bob Baugh: Well, I think the Apollo is a really important idea that's out there about how do we address the need for good jobs, from the manufacturing sector in particular, but it also is in construction and other industries in our economy. And it was looking at a way that we can address energy needs, energy independence, especially given the times we are in and with rising oil consumption from foreign producers, the issues connected with that, the security issues around that and ways in which we can meet the energy needs of this country in the long term, decrease our dependence upon outside resources. At the same time, do it in a way that allows us to employ people, develop new technologies, ideas that develop the future of our own economy and I think that's really important. That's brought people together.
Brian Stempeck: Do you see any of these ideas going into effect with the energy bill right now? I mean a lot of things you are talking about I know, hybrid cars is one good example. Are you seeing some of the goals of the Apollo Alliance being put into legislative form?
Bob Baugh: I think there's lots of things in the current energy bill that actually trouble us, as well as some good things that may be there. There are pieces of the Apollo Alliance programs, the hydrogen engines of the future and that. Other elements that you also see in the national commission, that President Gerard worked on as part of the Steelworkers looking at ways to address energy independence issues and the security of the nation in the long term.
Brian Stempeck: Bill, the Steelworkers came out recently and said that they would support the national commission policy on climate change, which is basically a lot more moderate cap-and-trade type plan than something like the McCain and Lieberman bill. Why did the Steelworkers come out? I mean the Steelworkers were totally against McCain and Lieberman, correct?
Bill Kleinfelter: Well, no, we weren't totally against McCain-Lieberman. We think that we have to explore our options to deal with global climate change, but what we are excited about is, Leo Gerard, our President, was on this commission and they worked on these things for two years. And it was a broad segment of American society. It was the energy producers, consumers, it was scientists, it was the environmental community, it was labor and what we came up with, we believe, is an approach that the United States and many constituency groups including labor can sign onto in terms of global climate change. That's why we believe our approach is beginning to take hold on Capitol Hill. We see a number of senators, like Senator Specter and Senator Bingaman, who are very interested in this proposal.
Brian Stempeck: Do you think that that kind of proposal will have enough support to get through the Senate? Senator Bingaman is talking about adding it as an amendment to the energy bill. Do you think it's building enough support to get through?
Bill Kleinfelter: I think that each day there is a growing awareness that the global climate change issue has to be addressed. The question is, how it is going to be addressed and the proposal that we put forward, the sum total of the proposal that we put forward at the commission, will give us the opportunity to use the resources that we have in this country to begin the process of reducing climate emitting pollutants, like CO2, and we'll do it in such a way as it won't harm the American economy because it's more of a gradual approach with a safety net that if our trading partners don't keep pace and do not live up to their commitments that we can take a pause. So it has, I think, all the ingredients that people had found fault with we've got into a proposal.
Brian Stempeck: A lot of opponents of climate bills though would argue that these kinds of things, if you put a limit on carbon, basically what you're doing is you're causing a lot of job losses. There's been reports about the McCain Lieberman bill that say that would cost something like 600,000 job losses over the course of the legislation. How do you react to that? Isn't there kind of an ample argument there that a climate bill is going to raise energy costs and it's going to cost jobs in the manufacturing sector?
Bill Kleinfelter: The National Energy Commission approach is revenue neutral, as far as that is concerned. We still call for coal, for growth in the use of coal, which is our most abundant resource, because we invest money in coal gasification and sequestering carbon. So I think our approach allows for job growth here in the United States and I have to say to you with all honesty, I worked on the Clean Air Act for 10 years of my life, there were draconian statements about the millions of jobs that the United States was going to lose if we passed the amendments in 1990. When those amendments passed we went into the greatest spurt of economic growth this country's ever seen.
Bob Baugh: You're looking at, our unions are looking at it through different lenses. I mean the auto workers have come out and they have problems with the mandatory raising of the CAFTA standards to certain levels that are going to harm jobs in this country. This is the question you're getting at, but they are very, very supportive of parts of this commission report that go after the investments in the new hybrid technology, the investments in the hydrogens, the ways in which we invest that will create the new technologies and make sure they're done here. I think this is part of the key when we talk about energy and investment is, how was it done in such a way that you will be assured that that research and development, that money that goes into that, ends up in products and processes that are produced here, that provide the job base the you're talking about.
Brian Stempeck: Going to the auto question, what is the best way to resolve that? You're seeing right now companies like Toyota and Honda are really kind of leading the pack with hybrid cars, with these very fuel efficient models now that gas prices are higher. You have consumers basically flocking to those cars and the American companies are really falling behind on that. What are the kinds of incentives that you're talking about or what's the way to reverse that trend?
Bob Baugh: Well, there's a couple of things you can incent there. Certainly you can incent in how it's invested to redo America's manufacturing base and factories in this. Ford is actually in the process of redoing their assembly lines to produce multiple types of vehicles. You can certainly incent the idea of, the use of these types of new technologies in engines and help make that investment occur and occur in the production process. And back again this idea, if you link the idea of investments that are made vis-à-vis government and tax policy and those incentives that are given, that ultimately have to spell out in the technology being used and produced in this nation.
Brian Stempeck: Some people might argue though that when you have Honda and Toyota, they're basically building a lot of their manufacturing plants in United States now. So I mean, it's a global economy. Does it matter anymore if they're employing American workers and selling those cars? Does it really matter if the American automakers are catching up to them?
Bob Baugh: Look, we would applaud investment in this country that creates jobs of any type and we will go organize them. There's no question about that, but we do believe it's important to incent that this development take place here and it take place in the domestic manufacturers that exist and refurbish the existing facilities and make those types of investments that allow that production to occur in plants that employ people in this country. That in turn, turn into tax dollars that go back into the system, whether it's state or federal, that helps pay for all this.
Brian Stempeck: Kind of taking a broader look at some of these types of issues. A big divide in the labor community right now is whether the money that you guys spend should be spent on getting new members for the unions or basically going for more political activity. This is a big issue with the AFL-CIO. How are things shaping up right now? This is an issue for environmental groups as well, whether you want to go with the grass roots or the national lobbying effort.
Bob Baugh: I think there's a lot of confusion on what's really being said in the public. I think you've got to walk and chew gum at the same time. It is that simple. You do organize. You do do politics. They go hand-in-hand. They support one another in various ways and it's not really a choice of doing one or another. It's a matter of, perhaps, some emphasis, but there's no question you do both. That's not an issue there really.
Brian Stempeck: But you do have unions within the AFL-CIO who want to see a lot more money going towards organizing. I mean labor right now has fallen to about 12 percent of the population, way down from where it was a few decades ago. Doesn't that need to be the first thing that's addressed?
Bill Kleinfelter: Well, I think that quite clearly it's the chicken and the egg. It really is the chicken and the egg. We have to have a Congress that will pass laws that allow people to organize, because right now they don't have the right to organize. Over 10,000 people a year are discharged for legally exercising their right to organize. I mean there's all this hidden crime that's going out there that is totally unpunished because the laws that we have now are just in favor of the companies. We need to change those laws. We can't change those laws until we get Republicans and Democrats, in Congress, who are favorable to labor. That means we have to spend money on politics. We also have to spend money on organizing and that's why this debate is a debate of degrees. It's not a debate of substance, because I think everyone in the labor movement would agree, on whatever side of the issue you're on, that both of these things are vital to our existence and our growth.
Bob Baugh: And I would simply say that if you understand, truly understand, the labor movement is we're a coalition of all the unions and the amount of resources we have are frankly minuscule in comparison to the resources of our individual affiliates and what they actually dedicate and devote toward organizing in politics. We just help people work together on these things. So I would agree with Bill, it is a matter of emphasis and agree and we've got to do both. In fact, our administration is actually moving in that direction too. That's part of the reorganization and discussion you're hearing here, about how that's done.
Brian Stempeck: A couple of other issues that are going on on Capitol Hill right now that I know the unions have a big stake in is, one is the asbestos legislation that's moving forward. Can we talk a little bit about how that's going and basically where the AFL-CIO comes down on that? I know you're pushing for basically one of the biggest trust funds and it might not end up being as big as what you're looking for. Bob Baugh: Well, you're right.
Brian Stempeck: Is that all?
Bob Bah: I mean the answer is our bottom line on this is that workers need to be protected, the workers and families that have been affected by this need to be protected. They can't be shortchanged in the process and we must do right by the citizens of this country. We've got to find a way to do it and that has really been the heart and soul of our discussion all the way through this. And Bill's --
Bill Kleinfelter: I think that the trust fund has to be as big as what we've been supporting at the AFL-CIO, but also, it's more than that. There are whole classes of people that people are willing to exclude. We are not willing to exclude them. Just because you've smoked during your life, the fact of the matter is you can have disease from asbestos and we can detect that as a separate cause, rather than cigarette smoking. Those kinds of test should be included in any kind of procedures that we agreed to in this asbestos bill.
Brian Stempeck: Do you think that bill is going to get through this year? I know Senator Frist has been working on this the past couple weeks and its movement has really been picking up. What are your thoughts on what the legislative path is for this right now?
Bob Baugh: Well I think Senator Specter wants to continue the markups, is my understanding, but he does have 80 amendments I believe, to get through. So it's always difficult to speculate on legislation like this.
Brian Stempeck: Another big bill that's being talked about in both chambers is the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which I know the AFL-CIO opposes. Can you briefly layout what would it take for the unions to basically come out in favor of this agreement? Is it fatally flawed?
Bob Baugh: At this point it's fatally flawed and it can't be changed. I mean that's part of the problem here. The way it is set out, you know if you go in and Congress says, "Well, we want to pass amendments to this thing." You can't. You can't do it. You actually to go back to the table and negotiate it again, negotiate it differently, and you certainly have to address the worker and environmental standards that we have talked about over and over and over again. And let me be absolutely clear, this is not an opposition to doing a trade agreement. This is an opposition to this trade agreement. There are different and better ways to do this and we have continued to negotiate these, whether you want to start with this or talk about FTAA. If you want to talk about what we did with NAFTA, if you want to talk about our relations with China and the way we do trade with them, we are in deep, deep trouble as a nation. There is a different way to do this. There is a better way to do this that is in the interest of our economy and the workers in this country and the workers and the economies of the other countries of this world, because they are getting short changed in this process too. We have trade agreements negotiated for and in the interest of multinational corporations and not the workers on either side of this issue.
Bill Kleinfelter: I think also what's important to realize is that the trade fight since NAFTA, through Fast Track, through China PNTR, through Fast Track again, what's happened in the public arena, in terms of Seattle and Cancun and Miami, all of these things have begun to build up and the Congress of the United States no longer has a consensus on trade. I mean if it had, CAFTA would be up and CAFTA would have gone through the House of Representatives. They don't have the votes and increasingly, Democrats, even free trade Democrats, so-called free trade Democrats like Adam Smith, have said that this agreement is flawed and that we shouldn't go forward. So the percentage of Democrats is creeping up towards 95 percent of the Democrats being opposed to this agreement. That means they have to corral a lot more Republicans than they ever had to before. Well, there are a tremendous amount of Republicans who are philosophically opposed to these agreements or who come from heavy manufacturing areas. So I think that they are going to have a very difficult time putting together their coalition to get this done.
Bob Baugh: Let me give you three numbers that loom over this whole thing. A trade deficit last year in manufactured goods of $666 billion and headed up by another hundred billion or more this year, the loss of 3.3 million manufacturing jobs since 1998 and a trade deficit with China that hit $162 billion last year and is expected to go up by another 30 or 40 billion next year. This is all problematical. If you listen to the Republicans and Democrats they are also angry with the president and this administration's inability to talk about or deal with the issues around the Chinese government's violations of law.
Brian Stempeck: CAFTA still has a little bit longer to go in Congress to get through clearly. The energy bill looks like it might be moving a bit faster on that front. Just the last question for you both, what's your top priority in the energy bill? What would you like to see in there if that moves through the House and Senate?
Bill Kleinfelter: Well, I clearly, from the point of view of the steelworkers, we'd like to see the commissions approach to global climate change be part of this energy bill and let's move forward, let's address this and be part of the world as the world addressed climate change, because it's not just an American problem, it's a global problem and I think that all nations have to step up to the plate. Now, what we need here is presidential leadership and my experience is nothing gets through the Congress until we have presidential leadership, but from our perspective that would be a wonderful thing to get into this energy bill, to get the process going so that we address this issue of climate change, which is happening. Brian Stempeck: Bob, your thoughts?
Bob Baugh: Well, I know a number of our unions met recently with some of the leaders and the Senate around this and I know certainly one of the main issues that's in there is the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Act, called the PUCHA. It is important. It was put in place for a reason because of a collapse with the energy industry in the country in the twenties and these companies that failed to meet the interest of the citizens of United States. You know what? We just went through this again. What do you think Californian Enron was all about? It's outrageous. So there is a need for these systems and there's a need for keeping this in place to represent the interests of the public.
Brian Stempeck: All right, we're out of time. We're going to have to stop there. I'd like to think both of our guests today. That was Bob Baugh with the Industrial Union Council of the AFL-CIO and also Bill Kleinfelter, legislative and political director for the United Steelworkers of America. I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.
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