MILWAUKEE (CN) — Taking to the airwaves in an unprecedented virtual meeting, the Democratic National Convention’s Labor Council met Monday afternoon to address the dire challenges faced by Postal Service employees and other essential workers in light of the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Stuart Applebaum, chair of the DNC Labor Council, acknowledged the no-contact circumstances at the top of Monday’s meeting, a scenario that would have been unimaginable when the Democrats’ national convention was awarded to Milwaukee in March 2019. The greatly downsized convention is now based out of the Wisconsin Center, just a few blocks away from the original venue at the Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks.
After a moment of silence for workers who have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus, Applebaum stressed that “essential workers were forced to be on the frontlines of a war they did not choose” as the people who stock and deliver food, drive public transportation, care for children and the elderly, and others have become the center of a political brawl over worker protections amid a still surging pandemic.
The council of union chiefs and prominent national Democrats spent more than two hours Monday unpacking how the economic impact of the pandemic is falling disproportionately on Black and brown working people and contrasted what they called the callousness and inaction of President Donald Trump against the just, compassionate policies of Joe Biden and his recently anointed running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris.
While a number of employment sectors drew focus in the meeting, the one perhaps most gravely addressed by the panel was the U.S. Postal Service, which has been under heavy scrutiny as of late given an escalating public fight over Trump’s deliberate digs at the agency through cutbacks and political innuendoes, including the president’s recent admission that he is withholding funds from the Postal Service to stymie voting by mail in the November general election.
Streaming from Milwaukee, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez touched on the recent appointment of Republican megadonor and Trump loyalist Louis DeJoy as postmaster general and the president’s other tactics against the Postal Service in Monday’s council meeting, calling out “a postmaster general who has no business being there” and “a president who knows he can’t win on the up and up, so he knows he has to cheat.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka echoed Perez’s point, accusing the president of throwing gasoline on fires and bullying the Postal Service for mere personal and partisan gain, saying “he’s threatening America’s most trusted public service…for one reason: to suppress the vote.”
But Trumka, representing the largest federation of unions in the U.S., expressed resolve and determination Monday, telling Trump “we’re going to fight you, and we’re going to beat you.”
“On Nov. 3, the Postal Service will be more than happy to process Donald Trump’s change of address form,” he said.
Addressing the issue from the standpoint of postal unions Monday were Fredric Rolando and Mark Dimondstein, presidents of the National Association of Letter Carriers and American Postal Workers Union, respectively.
Rolando said that the number of post office quarantines have quadrupled in recent weeks and the number of workers sick with Covid-19 has tripled, highlighting the dangers faced by essential postal workers on the frontlines. But the union leader contrasted mail workers’ indispensability with recent targeted attacks on the Postal Service from the White House.
The new postmaster general, Rolando said, has put in place “a series of operational initiatives that led to a decline in first class mail,” and he conceded that while a new leader reorganizing the agency is not unusual, these specific initiatives are unfairly designed to slow down the mail and need to be reversed.
Among other changes necessary, Rolando advocated for doing away with the prefunding mandate, a policy established by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that requires the cash-strapped Postal Service to make billions in payments toward the health benefits of future retirees 75 years into the future.
Dimondstein also spoke to the crisis faced by the Postal Service on Monday, saying the agency realistically needs at least $25 billion in pandemic relief to keep its head above water and its mission intact, calling out the attacks from the president and his hand-picked postmaster general as part of an assault on voting by mail in an election year during a novel pandemic and a larger privatization agenda.
“Without the Postal Service, without vote by mail, tens of millions of people will be unable to vote,” Dimondstein said.
The crucial importance of union workers in grocery stores, public transportation and the airline industry were also discussed during Monday’s DNC Labor Council meeting, as union heads and congressional representatives focused on the intertwined nature of workers’ rights and the fight against systemic racism, a mission they believe Biden and Harris are better fit and more willing to address with the nuance and urgency needed.
Among the needed fixes the Trump administration cannot or will not deliver are strong OSHA pandemic infectious disease standards, a $15 per hour minimum wage and an across-the-board right to organize, according to those in Monday’s meeting.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York joined the panel and illustrated the historic connection between “Democrats and the House of Labor,” pointing to his own upbringing in a central Brooklyn union household as key to his values.
Minnesota Senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar also briefly sat in on Monday’s meeting, emphasizing the importance of securing mail-in voting.
“I would rather put ballots in the mailbox than put voters in the hospital,” she said.
Klobuchar championed Biden as a presidential candidate with the requisite compassion and competence for the job of leading the nation out of its whirlwind of crises.
The group sitting in on the Labor Council meeting indicated two tangible ways to address many of the problems they discussed: passage of both the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act and the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.
The former, known as the Heroes Act, is the $3 trillion pandemic stimulus package the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed in May. The latter, known as the PRO Act, passed the House in February and variously seeks to empower unions and rewrite a number of labor laws liberals view as anti-worker.
Both pieces of legislation are considered unlikely to be taken up by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate in their current forms.