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Text: AFL-CIO President John Sweeney

Monday, Sept. 17, 2001

Following is the transcript of the president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney and president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donahue on America going back to work the Monday after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

DONAHUE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I'm Tom Donahue, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. I'm here today with John Sweeney, the leader of the labor movement in the United States, the president of the AFL-CIO.

What we're going to do this morning is, John has some comments to make. I will follow with some comments, and then be very happy to take your questions. Thank you very much for coming.

And, John, it's all yours.

SWEENEY: Thank you very much, Tom.

I'm happy to share this opportunity with Tom Donahue, with the Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of the AFL-CIO.

It is entirely fitting that American business and labor come together today to say that despite our deep and continuing sorrow, America is strong and America is back at work.

Last Tuesday's terrorist attack targeted the preeminent symbols of our country's financial and military power--the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the attack was about more than symbols, it was an attack on our government and our economy, our values, our diversity and our freedoms. And most of all, it was an attack on our confidence. But the attack on America will fail.

The universal values on which our country was founded are solid. Our financial system is strong, our markets are strong, our economy, even now, is the envy of the world. And America's working families have lost no confidence in our economy or our government, because we've lost no confidence in ourselves.

This morning American workers are back on the job making private industry work and making government work. It's not business as usual. It's business as unusual. Not only are we rescuing and caring for the living, we are mourning and burying the dead, opening up the mall stores and giant factories and jump-starting the economy.

You only have to look at the rescue and relief workers, the firefighters, iron workers, heavy equipment operators, carpenters and steel workers, laborers and medical workers and so many others, to be reminded of the undaunted spirit of American workers. America's workers are the most dedicated, creative and skilled in the world. America's businesses are the most competitive in the world. The attack on America will only steel the determination of our nation's workers and businesses to overcome the challenge that has been thrown down.

We hope it will also inspire both business and labor to work together to overcome many of the issues that have divided us. Business cannot answer every short-term disappointment in earnings by laying off the workers who can help them remain competitive, and labor must add a value to their employer's businesses if the real American economy is to prosper.

We're ready to turn the challenge to our nation and to our way of life and to an opportunity to work together for the sake of our future and the future of our children. We will work together to enact a program of national investment to rebuild shattered lives and shattered infrastructure. We must invest the resources necessary to ensure that our safety-net programs for workers and their families, unemployment insurance and workers compensation will provide adequate financial support for the thousands who are newly unemployed or injured, and maintain the program's integrity and solvency.

These programs have worked well for decades protecting working families against financial devastation due to job loss and injuries at work. The states most affected, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, will need strong federal support to meet the unprecedented demand generated by the terrorist attacks.

For those workers whose jobs were destroyed with the destruction of the Twin Towers, we must invest the resources needed to get them back to work, whether through comprehensive job placement services or education and training that equips them for new work or by creating jobs that pay living wages and provide good benefits. Job training and placement are areas where business and labor collaboration can be especially powerful and useful.

We must invest in rebuilding and shoring up our infrastructure not only in New York, but throughout those sectors of our economy, including the airline industry that are already paying such a heavy price for Tuesday's evil. Business and labor are key partners in this endeavor and so is the national government. American business and labor are prepared to dig down into our traditional optimism and do our part. And together with government, we will not only survive, we will prosper and continue to provide a beacon of hope for freedom and prosperity for the people of the world.

I would like also to announce that the AFL-CIO is in the process of opening an investment office in New York City which will be housed in the same location as the New York City Central Labor Council and the Housing and Building Investment Trust of the AFL-CIO will be looking at programs of investment. We will be looking at how we can invest pension monies in rebuilding all that has been destroyed and cooperating in every way we can to the rebuilding of our infrastructure.

Thank you.

DONAHUE: We're here today, ladies and gentlemen, because American business and the workers of this country are united in the grief we share over last Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Our thoughts, our prayers and our condolences go to all of those who lost loved ones during these terrible events of last Tuesday.

We're here also to thank the thousands of workers, businesses and individuals who have volunteered in these rescue efforts. John, I tip my hat to the construction workers, to the police, to the firemen, the EMTs who have demonstrated for all the world to see that it is the American people who make this a great country.

I also applaud the companies all over this country who are supporting rescue efforts through donations of equipment, technology, services and cash.

John and I are also here united in our support for the president, for the administration, for the Congress in their efforts to vanquish our enemies, to rebuild our cities, to strengthen our national security and to move our country forward with pride and confidence. We will stand by our government and do whatever is necessary, whatever it takes to win this war on terrorism.

John and I also vigorously support the men and women who serve in the United States military who risk their lives to protect our republic. We will work together to rebuild that which has been destroyed, and to destroy those who would attack our very way of life. And we're here today, the day the stock market reopens and America gets back to work, because we are united in our determination not to let terrorist defeat the spirit of enterprise and hard work that drives this country.

Make no mistake: ``American business and its workers were the targets of these attacks.'' The terrorist sought to disrupt and undermine the American economy to erode our confidence and sense of security. We are shocked, but unbowed.

The engine of the American economy, driven by millions of hardworking and innovative workers serving in the world's most competitive companies, will roll back stronger than ever. We will support the thoughtful expenditure of new dollars from the Congress and the private sector to make available a stimulus that this economy needs to create jobs and expand the workforce.

And, John, I congratulate the AFL-CIO on their investment strategy. I'm sure you'll see much of the same from America's leading companies.

Buildings may have been destroyed, but the foundation of our economy is untouched. For our productivity, ingenuity and work ethic are not in our buildings or our symbols, but in each of us. Production facilities, manufacturing plants, the service sector and Main Street businesses continue to drive our economic engine. American business and our workers are united in their commitment to rebuild and to move this country forward.

America's resolve, ingenuity and strength have been tested before, you will remember. America's great industrial might saved the world from tyranny and fascism, twice in the last century.

Our economic strength led to victory in the Cold War and we rose to the challenge then just as we will now. Put simply: American workers and businesses are the toughest, the smartest and the most productive in the world, but we cannot do it alone. Every citizen must help defeat these terrorist attacks on our economy and our way of life by not giving in to fear.

We cannot crawl under our blankets, afraid to travel, afraid to congregate, afraid to buy, afraid to sell, afraid to build, afraid to invest and afraid to live. To do so would let the terrorists win. We will not let them achieve their ultimate objective by breaking our economic and patriotic spirit.

This is a time for every worker, unionized and non-unionized, for every company, large and small, for consumers and investors of all sizes to ally together to ensure our economic and our political system remains the envy of the world. Starting today, right now, individual citizens, leaders of companies, organizations, labor unions, financial institutions must move forward to buy stock, to make investments, to buy new products, to hold meetings, to develop new inventions and to apply new technologies. We must move forward today.

If we sit back in our grief, in our fear and fail to act for a week or two weeks or a month or two months, this economy will fall into a protracted recession and a small group of terrorists will have achieved their objective not in the death of more than 5,000 of our fellow citizens or the destruction of our landmarks, but by crippling the engine of our economy.

Let each of us ask ourselves: what will we do today to challenge these maniacs? To demonstrate commitment to our economy, the jobs it creates, the quality of life it provides and the security it guarantees for us and our children. Together we're going to defeat this enemy that stalks us. We will go forward and we will prosper.

And while thanking you ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank John Sweeney. You might remember that on occasions John and I will testify together on something we agree on, and on many occasions we've been known to disagree.

Today we are here united to say that we're going to put all our resources, to put down those maniacs and, quite frankly, to go out and kick some economic butt. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, John.

We'll be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Donahue, before September 11th, the Chamber of Commerce was helping push an effort to increase construction of the airports around the country. Now that there's--now that the Congress is looking towards beefing up security, is there still an effort for helping construction of the airports or is that?

DONAHUE: Well, as you know, the Chamber of Commerce, the United States and the construction unions, many of them, have a joint effort to push the investment in the American infrastructure, including airports, with funds that are regularly collected in the trust funds. We are not only going to continue that in a vigorous way, but we will support, I believe, John, as you mentioned and as I will now say, a reasonable federal support to these airlines that have been put out of business by the attack by terrorists on our country.

We need those airlines for our national defense, for our national mobility and for our national economy. And while we're pushing the continual investment of existing funds, we will seek, we will support and we will get the funds we need to protect American Airlines.

Do you want to say a word about that, John?

SWEENEY: No, we're here to recommit ourselves to working together in whatever way we can to encourage and to stimulate investment in our infrastructure in the airline industry and wherever it's necessary. We're jointly united in trying to--we have task forces that are working right now on setting up funds and setting up different avenues of opportunity and we just wanted to announce that today.

QUESTION: What about areas where you disagree? Are you going to put those aside for the time being, in order to promote unity?

DONAHUE: Our disagreements often are driven by the people we represent and the responsibilities that we hold individually. I would suspect that over the next months, as we work through these challenges, that John and I will probably find some ways to agree that he ought to have some things that I normally wouldn't want and that the business community might have some things that he normally wouldn't want, for the simple purpose of driving this economy to a new height and challenging our adversaries.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what those issues are. But I will pledge to sit down with him, as the smoke clears, literally, and find ways that not only can we support investment in our infrastructure, but we can find ways to move this economy at a more vigorous pace.

SWEENEY: And there are many areas that we have worked together, such as creation of jobs and training and upscaling of workers, immigration policy and other such issues. We are jointly united and seriously committed to working together, in terms of strengthening our economy and strengthening work for citizens of our country whose jobs are threatened and whose lives have been threatened. And so, we'll agree on all of this kind of program. We'll still have our differences in the future.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the country, are any plans closed as, you know, as a trickle-down effect?

DONAHUE: Yes, some plants closed because we had closed down the borders pretty much with Mexico and Canada, slowed them down, and a lot of the components come in that way. Those plants will start to open as things--and air traffic--air freight was slowed down. And we're pushing very hard to get everyone back to work.

I'm saying to American business: You have to do the normal business of efficient management of your company. But right now, you have to go another step further. You have to send a message to terrorist around the world that we are not closed--we're open for business, we're not closed for business. And I believe they may have created a stimulus for us to give this economy a good move forward, and we're certainly going to have a lot of economic activity in the United States.

Because I'm going to tell you something: We're going to rebuild New York, and we're going to rebuild anything they take apart very, very quickly.

QUESTION: The American economy was already struggling before this event; about at 10:15 this morning the Dow was down by 554, Nasdaq was down 105. How difficult is it going to be for your membership to respond to your call to action today?

DONAHUE: Well, first let me say, I think the government--and John would agree--has done a number of things. They've cut the interest rate again this morning by a half point. The SEC has given companies the facility to buy some of their own stock. There is some protection against the hold-short folks.

The fact that the Dow was down 500 points normally would be a bad day right now. The fact that it's only down 500 points at that hour is a near miracle with all the events in the last week.

Let me say, there are people all over this country, there are people in this room, there are people all over this world that are going to buy American securities.

This market always has its ups and downs, but it's not going in the can because we're not.

QUESTION: Mr. Donahue and Mr. Sweeney, could you please elaborate on the funds that you talked about that you'll be using to help for construction; what you're going to use them for, one; and, two, where they're coming from? Or whether or not it's too preliminary just to see what exactly you'll do? And how much money you're looking at spending?

SWEENEY: Well, the AFL-CIO has an investment fund--actually two investment funds; the housing investment fund and the building investment fund, which invests billions of dollars of union members' pension monies in good investments, in construction of housing and commercial, as well as infrastructure all across the country. It's nothing new.

What we are announcing today is that we're opening an office in New York. There are projects that we can embark on in New York City very quickly and we're doing the research that's necessary for that as we talk, and we will be asking our unions to make further investments and commitments. The labor movement has always responded to these kinds of needs and plus it's a good investment. It's a good investment of our members' pension funds and we are looking to a very successful program of rebuilding New York and getting involved as well here in terms of the hurt that has come upon Virginia and the Pentagon.

DONAHUE: American businesses has contributed somewhere in the last few days of close to $100 million to the relief efforts and, of course, our insurance companies, the reinsurers and American business investments will be going towards these rebuilding.

QUESTION: Mr. Donahue, I was wondering potful expenditures you talked about that could be needed from Congress, would that include a future tax cut that some lawmakers are considering?

DONAHUE: Well, you know, one thing I don't want to do today is I don't want to get into the issue of what we're going to do about tax cuts. Let me say the things that are fundamentally clear to me: The United States military and the intelligence community need whatever dollars it takes to root out, find and destroy the people that have attacked our country. Everybody agrees to that.

Number two, we need to protect vital industries that are in serious condition. The airline industry is going to need some help. By the way, we have helped the farmers in this country every year, it seems, whether we need to or not, you know. But we have got a clear demonstration that we're going to come to the aid of industries that are unreasonably attacked by foreign sources.

I think also there is going to be some need to help New York and this--the chamber is usually against some federal spending--we're going to vigorously support the amount of federal spending that's needed to help rebuild New York, the financial capital of the world, and point out to people around this country that the government, that industry, that labor and the leaders of those organizations are absolutely united on this.

You know, this is a great country. John and I fight all the time and we fight amongst ourselves with the government and so on, but there is a time--you start throwing rocks through our window, and we're going to get together and you're going to worry about the boulders we throw back. So whatever it takes, this is a nation of great wealth, a $10 trillion economy, whatever it takes, we're going to do so that these terrorists don't get their way.

QUESTION: Mr. Donahue--actually, Mr. Sweeney, you mentioned, in passing in your remarks, the issue of layoffs, which are coming. Are you calling on industry as a almost patriotic duty to the economy to avoid layoffs, even at economic cost to a company?

SWEENEY: What we are asking is that industry business will think carefully about their present situation and we do not want to encourage any overreaction. We do not want to encourage any further hurt on workers around the country.

And so, we're asking them to be very thoughtful and to take their time. This is just a week ago. We're not in the position to really announce what forms of public policy we think should be implemented or that we should be recommending, but we are expressing the desire of the labor movement to work with business and government until we get all of the rebuilding and reduce the hardship that has been placed on so many.

Let me just add--Tom mentioned about the number of business and corporations that are responding, the unions have set up funds to assist the families and the workers who have been involved and there are several millions of dollars already committed to that.

The union members are operating food banks and working at the hospitals surrounding the World Trade Center, as we speak, and involved in collecting clothing and safety equipment and--as well as heavy construction equipment from all across the country. We've had responses from California. We have some workers who have some expertise in demolition and removal of the kind of debris that we have seen there and also our rescue operations who have come from California to assist the workers in New York.

DONAHUE: John, let me just make one comment, that nobody wants to see any unreasonable layoffs. You saw Continental Airline laid off 12,000 people. It was just--they weren't moving at all. Fortunately, many of the contracts for some of these workers give them some protracted pay. We're encouraging companies not to find this as a time of opportunity, but to find this as a time of responsibility and we're going to do everything we can to keep America working. Failure to do so, gives another victory to the terrorists.

QUESTION: Congress considered a measure early Saturday morning to provide $15 billion in emergency funding to the airline industry. They did not pass that measure. Could you comment on that?

DONAHUE: Yes. I think there are a whole series of collateral issues that were in those discussions that deal a lot with, you know, how the taxes are going to be handled and so on.

But I think there is a commitment in the Congress of the United States, and there's certainly a commitment in the labor movement and in the business community, for vigorous support for reasonable financial support from the federal government for the airlines. And in the coming days, not weeks, we'll be working on this together. And I think when the government needs to do it, the Congress needs to do it, the airlines need to do it, and labor and management wants to do it, I have a hunch we'll get it done.

QUESTION: Are there any specific labor-management, union-employer negotiations that have been interrupted and affected? Any strikes that have been put on hold?

SWEENEY: I'm sure there are some issues that were in the process of negotiations or close to contract expirations. But, I think, that all of that has ceased temporarily until people can bet a better handle on where the rescue operation is and how they can be helpful to all of those who have been hurt so badly.

QUESTION: Do you think that as we adjust to this post-attack way of life that increased security measures at the airports, at our borders, at the ports, everywhere, is going to have a long-term affect on the economy, slowdown things so much that it'll reduce the GDP?

DONAHUE: John and I have grown children, and had dinner with a whole lot of them over the weekend, and I said our lives have changed.

But the more you talk about it, you know, this is a cause-and-effect economy. You raised the issue that some of this may slow down the economy. I would raise the issue that these are additional hires, these are new businesses, these are significant investments. And as much as you're going to see some slowdown in areas of the economy, you're going to see pick-up in others.

This is the most resilient society in the world. Think about our gene pool, who we are. We're from all over the world. We are descendants of adventurers and entrepreneurs and freedom-seekers, and we are vigorous people.

And you make a mistake, if you think you'll bring us to our knees or that the annoyances--and they will be--that will assure our security are going to stop us.

By the way, the chamber has opened a clearinghouse. We're encouraging the government to improve security.

On the other hand, we're letting them know, when things that are being done are putting workers out of work or that are hurting companies. For example, when we had this problem with the cross border stuff from Canada and Mexico in the air cargo, we went back the government and said, ``Great idea, but accommodate these issues, so we can keep these plants open and these people working,'' and we'll be doing that on a regular basis and it'll be a matter of balance.

SWEENEY: We've been a very vibrant society, and I don't think that any increased security measures are going to slow us down. We may have to wait a little longer on line going through security. And I do a lot of traveling, as I'm sure Tom does, and try to go in and out of a city the same day. Well, I may have to stay overnight in some of those cities. But I think that we'll be getting back to normal and people will realize how important security is.

Our airline pilots union and our flight attendants union, as well as the unions that represent security workers, have all been involved in the discussions with the Department of Transportation and with the airlines over what security measures are adopted, and I think that you'll find people will be very receptive to the increased security and the need for it.

DONAHUE: You know, the whole--you were going right here--the hotel industry is having a little problem. Not as many people traveling. They'll be glad to hear, John, that you're going to stay over.


QUESTION: For both of you, where do you and your members stand on federalizing the security screening processes at airports? You said you understand it will take longer, but do you support federalizing the screening processes?

DONAHUE: You know, I'm not--I'm not sure what we think about that yet. I'd be interested in John's views. I'm sure we'll look at that. We're encouraging the federal government to do everything they think is responsible and needed to protect our society. We will then look at what effect that has and make some suggestions for doing it in a way that's most effective.

John, do you have a theory on that?

SWEENEY: No. I don't have any firm answer in response to that, but I just offer for your consideration, the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of workers who have been involved in security and if they need to have their--if they need more education or they need better equipment, it should be strengthened and we have not been faced yet with the federalization issue.

QUESTION: I know that legal reform has been a top priority for the chamber. One of the proposals that's being kicked around on the Hill is to exempt United and American from lawsuits related to the hijackings. I'm sure Mr. Hunt and Mr. Donahue probably think that's a great idea, but I was wondering if Mr. Sweeney--what he thinks about that?

DONAHUE: Let me just say one thing: First of all, I'd like to congratulate the Trial Lawyer Association for coming out just the day before yesterday--Friday, I guess--with a very strong statement that this is a time that should not be followed up by lawsuits.

I will point out that the trial lawyer guy, who traditionally sues in airplane issues, is already out making counterstatements to that. But I think this is a time to take a look at fundamental reality.

We have responsible issues for the airlines and what they're responsible for. I'm not really sure the airlines are going to be responsible for somebody--terrorists--stealing their airplanes and flying them through the World Trade Center. What we need here is not to look at the politics of the matter, but look at the economics and the national security implications here, and come to a national decision on how we will share the responsibility and the burden for this.

There is no sense in destroying airlines, insurance companies and others if we can find a more reasonable way to do it. Nobody's looking for a handout. Everybody is looking for a reasonable approach to what we do in this tragedy, and I think you'll find some very constructive discussion on that. But I would like to say any trial lawyers that go out and try and enrich themselves on this tragedy are going to have a lot of people in this country that find it disgusting.

SWEENEY: So many of these areas are areas that really we don't have a position at this time. We may have had positions before, but we are reevaluating our positions on so many of the policy questions that have been raised and we will be giving some serious consideration to all of these issues and hopefully we'll be working with business and government in a firm policy.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask both of you what positions you're reevaluating? I know that for the AFL-CIO maintaining Social Security surpluses is important or has been traditionally other issues for the chamber. What are some of the things that you are sort of suspending right now or thinking?

SWEENEY: Well, the Congress has not really resumed their schedule, in terms of some committee meetings, and those discussions have been suspended for the most part. But we're not going to change our policy on issues unrelated to all this. We will continue to fight for a secure Social Security system, and we'll have more to say about that later.



QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) historical precedence for this, maybe World War II or any other time that labor and management tried to come together like this? And secondly, Mr. Sweeney, could you say a little more about your investment in New York, and are you talking about millions or billions of dollars?

DONAHUE: Let me just say a word about the historical precedent. And the gentlemen who have held the same post as Mr. Sweeney in the past, Mr. Meaney, for example, Kirkland and others, they were very clear on matters of national defense and national well-being, and stood side-by-side with the leaders of American business, large and small, with a very, very clear answer.

This is a family, this country, and we bicker all the time, and have difficulties and we have disagreements, but if you come into our house and start messing with this family, we're going to stop our traditional differences and we're going to get our assets together and we're going to do very, very well in straightening out our adversaries.

I believe that's where we are today. I believe that history puts us in a position to come together, deal with our problems. And then, by the way, when we have this quieted down, John and I will be on the other side of a lot of issues, as is what makes this country great. But for now, ``You picked on the wrong people.''

SWEENEY: As Tom has said, the record of labor and business working together in national disasters, world wars and others, has been rather unique and has been a very productive effort working together with the government. And I'm assuming that in this crisis you will have the same spirit and the same commitment, and we will continue to work together.

And I'll keep reminding Tom Donahue after this is all over, that ``We are family, my brother.''

DONAHUE: And I'll keep reminding John that families squabble, but we stay together.

Your's is the last question; we'll take the rest of them individually.

QUESTION: Not to detract from the brotherliness, but for the last nine years, we've seen stagnating wages for workers and super profits for business. Doesn't it strike people as odd that suddenly we're all in the same boat?

DONAHUE: Well, I haven't seen super profits for business of late. As a matter of fact, over the last year, I've seen...

QUESTION: Over the last nine years.

DONAHUE: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear that point.

Well, I don't want to get into the John-and-Tom debate about creation of capital, about wage growth and all of that.

Let me just simply say, on today, with all of those issues and all of those debates, we're here together because there are some issues far more important that must be dealt with, and business and labor is going to do what we have to do to support the government, to support our workers, to support our country and our companies and to go out and find these people and make them wish they were never born.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.

And I'll keep reminding John that families squabble, but we stay together.

Your's is the last question; we'll take the rest of them individually.

QUESTION: Not to detract from the brotherliness, but for the last nine years, we've seen stagnating wages for workers and super profits for business. Doesn't it strike people as odd that suddenly we're all in the same boat?

DONAHUE: Well, I haven't seen super profits for business of late. As a matter of fact, over the last year, I've seen...

QUESTION: Over the last nine years.

DONAHUE: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear that point.

Well, I don't want to get into the John-and-Tom debate about creation of capital, about wage growth and all of that.

Let me just simply say, on today, with all of those issues and all of those debates, we're here together because there are some issues far more important that must be dealt with, and business and labor is going to do what we have to do to support the government, to support our workers, to support our country and our companies and to go out and find these people and make them wish they were never born.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company