Londrigan: 'Nobody can turn out people like we can'

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Bill Londrigan closed the Kentucky State AFL-CIO convention with a bittersweet stroll down memory lane.

“It was no surprise that we would talk about ‘right to work’ and repeal of prevailing wage,” the federation president told delegates from industrial, construction and public employee unions who gathered in Lexington Monday and Tuesday for the 32nd biennial convention.

About 150 people--union members, politicians, attorneys, consultants and other organized labor supporters--showed up for the two-day gathering at the Embassy Suites hotel.

The featured speakers were Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America; and Chuck Jones, the retired Indianapolis Steelworkers Local 1999 president who famously took on President Trump.

No sooner did the General Assembly convene last January than the GOP-majority passed, rapid fire, a RTW law, prevailing wage repeal and legislation authorizing charter schools. Tea party Republican Gov. Matt Bevin gleefully signed the legislation that Londrigan called “the Koch brothers’ triple crown.”

“[Kentucky] is not the only place this is happening,” the veteran trade unionist said. “We’ve seen this sweep across the country as the Koch brothers and all their cohorts have poured billions of dollars into elections and taken over state houses, state senates and the governor’s office in state after state with very little hope of us preventing passage of the right-wing, anti-worker, anti-union agenda.”

Londrigan recalled that for years, the Democratic-majority Kentucky House of Representatives was all that stood between Bluegrass State unions and RTW.

Last November, the Trump tsunami swept away a thin 53-47 Democratic edge. The GOP held its 27-11 Senate majority; the House flipped 64-36, Republican.

The legislature passed RTW on Jan. 8. Londrigan, called it “probably the worst day in my 18 years as president of your state federation. It was something I dreaded all these years—even from the very first day in office.”

Kentucky was the last Southern state to go RTW, he reminded the crowd, which packed a big meeting room at the high-rise hotel.

The Republicans took the Senate in 2000. Routinely, the upper chamber passed RTW bills, all of which died in the House. “I don’t know how many ‘right to work’ bills were filed,” Londrigan said.

He vowed that while Jan. 8 “was a disastrous day for us…It was also, for me, a great day because everybody showed up. Thousands of union members, their families, their children and supporters--all over the Capitol.”

Londrigan said Frankfort was also thronged the day before when the bill was heard in committee, though the outcome was not in doubt.

Londrigan said he was grateful for the show of solidarity, which “gave me a little more optimism that we’re not going away, and that’s another point—those jokers up there thought that when they passed ‘right to work’ we would just disappear and not come back—they thought that they would drive a stake into our heart.”

Despite the odds against them, union members and their backers kept thronging the Capitol to protest prevailing wage repeal and other anti-union legislation, including a measure to gut the workers’ compensation program, which failed to pass.

“We were able to stop it,” Londrigan said. “Some of the Republican supporters of weakening workers’ compensation couldn’t believe it.”

Union members also convinced lawmakers to soften a “paycheck protection” bill. Unions call such measures “paycheck deception” because they are designed to weaken unions by making it extremely difficult for locals to collect dues through payroll deduction.

The final version, according to Londrigan, was “totally inconsequential. So, in the midst of all the chaos and losses, we had a couple of victories.”

He praised union members for their “energy and excitement” and for “coming up and participating in the process and raising their voices. That’s what we’re about. That’s what makes us different. Nobody can turn out people like we can.

And [the Republicans] don’t like seeing us there. So that’s why we’re going to keep on going back over and over and why we are going to contact them in their districts, at town hall meetings, the grocery store, coffee shop, and every chance we get.”