Monitor Breakfast: Sweeney, Rosenthal, and Samuel

Selected quotations from a Monitor Breakfast with AFL-CIO officials John Sweeney, Steve Rosenthal, and Bill Samuel

(Sweeney) on whether the recession is over:

"We are not sure the recession is over. It certainly isn't over for workers and their families.

There are so many areas where workers are hurting. The unemployment is a serious problem, layoffs are continuing, plant closings are continuing. We don't see it in terms of how it impacts on workers.

(Sweeney) on the stimulus bill that passed the House on Thursday and the Senate on Friday after the breakfast was held:

"The stimulus bill that was adopted in the House [Thursday] is a classic example of how there is no priority for workers and their issues... I think it is a disgrace, I think it is an insult to workers. And we have been saying this shortly after Sept. 11 and the bailout of the airline industry and the lack of interest in worker protections - not just unemployment insurance but COBRA healthcare benefits as well. I think the workers are still hurting and they are not seeing any recovery."

(Sweeney) on President Bush's decision last week to impose tariffs on imported steel:

"I think that the presidents recommendations are a major step in the right direction for an industry that has been impacted in such a disastrous way as a result of imports over the years. The number of bankruptcies in the steel industry and the loss of jobs really required some attention from the administration. I think it is a step in the right direction."

(Rosenthal) on Democrats' success in connecting with working families: "Whatever the Democratic
message is, it is not reverberating.

The Democrats have had a really hard time, No. 1, putting a plan forward that connects with working people and No. 2, figuring out how to operate in a post-Clinton world. To make sure their message is heard. We think it is a real concern going into this election. There needs to be a real alternative for workers. They understand what the White House stands for, what Bush stands for and the Republicans. They need to understand what the Democrats stand for. That is going to be a critical test over the next several months – whether the Democrats can figure out how to craft a program and a message that really resonates with working families and right now we are worried that most people don't know what the Democrats are for."

(Sweeney) on the health of the labor movement:

"Prior to Sept. 11, we were on a growth trend – very modest ... we are not sure what the impact of Sept. 11 and the recession will do in terms of the membership numbers. But so far our membership is pretty stable. But we know, some unions, hotel and restaurant workers as an example, we don't know how many of those jobs are going to come back and not sure yet what the overall situation in the manufacturing industries is going to be. On the other hand, we are organizing in areas that were highly unorganized – seeing a lot of organization going on in healthcare industry and seeing some modest success in some of the high-tech areas but it is relatively small in terms of numbers right now. I think it is an indication of potential for the longer term. "

(Samuel) on Enron's bankruptcy:

"In terms of pensions, the Enron disaster really highlights the fundamental weakness in the pension system with more and more employers moving away from defined benefit plans and toward contribution plans. That puts workers most at risk when all their savings for their retirement is invested in stocks, particularly when the company controls most of those investments either directly by tying it as in the case of Enron or just through an incredible sales job. It is not limited to Enron."

(Rosenthal) on the effect of labor's changed image after Sept. 11 displays of heroism:

"One thing we have seen is strong support for union candidates that are running. So we have about 2,500 union members around the country who have been elected in the last couple of years. We are winning about 72 percent of the elections when union members run. The Wall Street Journal did a piece a couple of weeks ago about firefighters and how they are setting up candidates around the country. It is a really good opportunity here to elect more working people, particularly in state and local offices. And we hope that some of the good will generated by the courageous work around the rescue and clean up efforts in New York and here at the Pentagon will help folks to see these are heroes every day and are great candidates for elected office as well. "

(Sweeney) on labor support for Al Gore:

"Al Gore deserved our endorsement the last time around...Al Gore has a good record on workers' issues and he knew how to talk about unions with union members.... We will go through the same process prior to the next presidential elections and we will be reviewing all of the candidates at that time. And Al Gore deserves our consideration, but it is too soon to say where we are going to be going."

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