Union leader denounces corporate and judicial excess

The leader of the nation’s largest labor federation denounced several top American corporations and the U.S. Supreme Court for contributing to the erosion of the middle class.

In a fiery speech to thousands of union members at the AFL-CIO convention in downtown Los Angeles, President Richard Trumka denounced the “powerful forces in America today who want our country to be run by and for the rich.”

He singled out longtime union targets Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and McDonald’s Corp., saying “their whole business model is about keeping the people who work for them poor.” He also lambasted the Supreme Court for waging a “war on democracy.”


Trumka called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a frequent foil for labor attacks because of his efforts to limit collective bargaining by public employee unions, an “apostle of greed.”

The former mine worker’s remarks came on the second day of a convention that he and others have portrayed as a crucial turning point for a shrinking labor movement that now represents just 11% of U.S. workers, down from 35% in the 1950s.

Insisting that the “shrinking” union must adapt or risk losing even more ground, Trumka pushed new rules to expand the group’s base.

He successfully lobbied for passage of a resolution that allows the union to form official alliances with progressive groups including the NAACP and the Sierra Club.

Another resolution that expands membership to those not covered by a collective-bargaining agreement also passed. “The AFL-CIO hereby invites every worker in the United States to join the labor movement,” the resolution read.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, said the resolution could help reverse some of the losses suffered recently in states such as Wisconsin and Indiana, where collective-bargaining rights were rolled back.

“This is the only way that we know of that’s going to turn that around,” he said.

Trumka said it’s important that like-minded groups come together in the face of growing corporate influence in politics. He denounced the Supreme Court, which in 2010 handed down a decision that allowed unlimited spending by corporations in political elections.

On Sunday, the first day of the convention, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) launched a similar attack on the nation’s top judicial body, accusing the court of siding too often with corporate interests.

Warren, who has been touted as a possible 2016 presidential contender, warned that the court could be a path to becoming “a wholly owned subsidiary of big business.”

The convention, which drew day laborers from Florida, taxi drivers from New York and union organizers from as far away as Pakistan, Myanmar and South Africa, continues through Wednesday. The program includes a speech Tuesday by Thomas E. Perez, who was sworn in as Labor secretary in July.

President Obama was scheduled to speak live at the convention Monday but canceled to stay in Washington, where he is making the case to Congress that the U.S. should intervene militarily in Syria.

In a taped video address, Obama said he shared labor’s commitment to protecting the American dream. He said if he were a worker looking to make his life better, he’d join a union. “I’d want that union looking out for me.”

Twitter: @rljourno

Twitter: @katelinthicum

Times staff writer Ronald D. White contributed to this report.