Unions, Business Owners Face Off In Jobs Debate

Jul 11, 2011
Originally published on July 11, 2011 6:21 pm
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As the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, the political left and right are seeking to advance their own takes on what to do about it. Today in Washington, the AFL-CIO took part in a news conference to offer its view. And not far away, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held its own jobs summit.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this report on their dueling arguments.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Both sides freely admit the jobs picture is bleak.

Mr. TOM DONOHUE (President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): In other recoveries, growth came roaring back. And with it, so did jobs. But that's not happening this time.

NOGUCHI: That's Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. RICHARD TRUMKA (President, AFL-CIO): We have an economy that wasn't what they said. It wasn't self-correcting. It wasn't fair. It wasn't adjusting.

NOGUCHI: And that is Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. Neither side is excited about the current situation. The unemployment rate crept up to 9.2 percent last month. Business hiring, which was supposed to log healthy gains, didn't. Meanwhile, government continued to shed jobs. This new data landed right in the middle of the debate over how and how much to cut the deficit.

Both Trumka and Donohue thought a new infrastructure as a way to create new jobs, especially in the hard-hit construction industry. But their agreement ended there. Starting with the whole idea of cutting, the Chamber's Donohue made an impassioned plea to leaders of both parties to raise the debt ceiling.

Mr. DONOHUE: ...and also agree on a plan that controls our deficits and debt level going forward. And this requires, first and foremost, major spending cuts and entitlement reforms.

NOGUCHI: Trumka, meanwhile, defended Social Security, Medicaid and unemployment insurance, saying those things have helped union members during protracted joblessness. He says now is not the time to cut programs like these.

Mr. TRUMKA: All the jibber jabber about debt reduction at a time when we have a jobs crisis and 14 million people out of work for the longest period ever...

NOGUCHI: It simply makes no sense, he says.

Mr. TRUMKA: Cutting doesn't create jobs.

NOGUCHI: Whether on the left or on the right, it was a day for reiterating past talking points. The Chamber of Commerce's Donohue says the U.S. stands to lose jobs to competitors without new free trade agreements.

Mr. DONOHUE: After years of wobbling around, it's time to finally enact the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

NOGUCHI: Trumka and others on this panel argued against free trade agreements, which they said had robbed the country of jobs. And on the issue of raising taxes to raise revenue, the AFL-CIO's position, not surprisingly, was that taxes should be raised for wealthier Americans. That's something the Chamber's Donohue argued is not necessary.

Mr. DONOHUE: Government can also generate a lot of new revenue, not by raising tax rates, but by spurring growth, creating more taxpayers.

NOGUCHI: If these press conferences were indicative of the broader debate over how to solve the country's economic and fiscal problems, then there's still a big gap to bridge.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.