AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka congratulated President Obama and the rest of the Democratic leadership Thursday on ending the government shutdown and lifting the debt ceiling. He called the Republicans' demands "extortion" and said the Democrats were right to resist them.
"Finally — after more than two weeks of government shutdown, with hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work and billions of dollars in avoidable losses — Republican leaders have stood down. While it is good news that we have avoided a crisis, we all know that it should never have happened. No party or faction inside a party should hold our economy hostage to extract political gains. We commend President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and the leadership of the Democratic party for standing firm and resisting extortion," Trumka said.
The Big Labor leader said Congress should now return to "urgent national priorities" such as immigration reform (which unions believe will expand their membership), new federal infrastructure spending (which will benefit building and construction trade unions) and ending outsourcing (which lowers labor costs by moving business activity abroad).
Trumka's comments are somewhat ironic given that the original goal of the shutdown was to defund the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, or at least wring significant concessions to the law from Obama. (The final congressional deal included only a minor amendment firming up the law's income verification provision.)
The AFL-CIO had called for significant amendments to Obamacare during its September convention. Many unions fear the law will undermine the multi-employer insurance plans many of their members have.
Tea Party Republicans often cited this fact during the shutdown, giving -- unintentionally or not -- the impression that organized labor would support defund efforts.
Union leaders like Trumka want the law expanded, not rolled back, though. The AFL-CIO has called for union-provided insurance plans to be eligible for federal subsidies meant for people without coverage through their employers.
Trumka's Thursday statement made no mention of Obamacare at all, suggesting it wants to avoid further public controversy with the administration over the subject even as it lobbies for a change in the law.