Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade

Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade

3:43pm Apr 29, 2015
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: "Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer, and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: "Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer, and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement."
Alex Wong / Getty Images
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: "Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer, and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement."

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Don't expect labor support to get fired up for candidates who hedge their bets. That was the message from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for 2016 presidential candidates. Translation: Hillary Clinton.

"Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement, to run out and door knock and phone bank and leaflet only to have their candidate of choice turn a back towards the policies," Trumka said in a speech at the labor federation's headquarters in Washington.

Trumka never named Clinton, but the Democratic frontrunner has done exactly what Trumka is warning against on trade — hedge.

As secretary of state, Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being hotly debated now in Congress, the "gold standard" of trade agreements. But, now that she's running for president, she has backed away from that.

"Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security," Clinton said in Concord, N.H., last week while touring a community college that focuses on technical skills. "We have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and the skills to be competitive."

Clinton is the only announced Democratic presidential candidate to this point, and she is far ahead in the polls. Independent Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist is set to announce his candidacy Thursday, Vermont Public Radio reports. Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has indicated he is also likely to run and will announce his decision by the end of May.

O'Malley, who is trying to position himself to Clinton's left, didn't mince words during an event at Harvard earlier this month. He cut a web video off of what he said on trade.

"I'm for trade," he said. "And I'm for good trade deals, but I'm against bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

YouTube

Trumka talked of the income inequality and noted that CEO pay has skyrocketed over the last four decades while the wages of average Americans have gone the other way.

"We want action," Trumka said. "We want big ideas, and we want structural change. We want 'Raising Wages.'"

And he said labor won't accept "half measures."

"Workers have swallowed the politics of hedged bets for almost two generations," said Trumka, who has seen labor membership decline in the past generation. "We've waited for the scraps that remain after the pollsters shape the politics. Those days are over. America doesn't need relentlessly cautious half-measures."

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The nation's most powerful labor leader has delivered what could be called a warning and a wish list. The head of the AFL-CIO says it will only back presidential candidates committed to raising workers' wages and addressing income inequality - that would include opposition to big trade agreements, a message that seems to be aimed directly at Hillary Clinton. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Standing in front of a wall-size mosaic depicting American work life throughout history, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today was focused on the future and what he sees as the issue in the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD TRUMKA: We have an economy where GDP is up and the stock market is up but wages remain flat. And this has happened again and again since the 1970s.

GONYEA: He noted that CEO pay has skyrocketed over the last four decades while the wages of average Americans have gone the other way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMKA: Now, that's a violation of the American dream.

GONYEA: Trumka did point to some union successes from last November. Yes, it was a horrible midterm election for so many labor-backed Democrats, but ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage won in five states. Then, Trumka said this - a message seemingly targeted at Democrats, especially the overwhelming frontrunner for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, though he didn't mention her by name.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMKA: Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement, to run out and door knock and phone bank and leaflet, only to have their candidate of choice turn a back towards the policies.

GONYEA: That kind of grassroots effort he describes is what gives labor clout in elections, even after decades of declining membership. The big current issue is President Obama's push for authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trumka opposes it and says it will hurt American workers. Obama disagrees. And so far, the only Democrat in the race, Hillary Clinton, is hedging her bets. At one point she called this deal, quote, "the gold standard." Now she won't say exactly where she stands. After his speech, Trumka talked very briefly with a handful of reporters. He was asked, is she doing what he just warned against?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMKA: No candidate will be able to dodge any issue. It's 18 months. It's a long campaign. I'm sure you'll get to ask her that question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you asked her?

TRUMKA: I'm sure you will, you will, you will. All of us will.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you, though?

TRUMKA: All of us will get a chance to ask her that question.

GONYEA: The big question down the road for labor will be not just her answer, but whether unions do ultimately again have to get behind a candidate who's good enough on their issues. That's why pressure is being applied now. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The nation's most powerful labor leader has delivered what could be called a warning and a wish list. The head of the AFL-CIO says it will only back presidential candidates committed to raising workers' wages and addressing income inequality - that would include opposition to big trade agreements, a message that seems to be aimed directly at Hillary Clinton. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Standing in front of a wall-size mosaic depicting American work life throughout history, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today was focused on the future and what he sees as the issue in the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD TRUMKA: We have an economy where GDP is up and the stock market is up but wages remain flat. And this has happened again and again since the 1970s.

GONYEA: He noted that CEO pay has skyrocketed over the last four decades while the wages of average Americans have gone the other way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMKA: Now, that's a violation of the American dream.

GONYEA: Trumka did point to some union successes from last November. Yes, it was a horrible midterm election for so many labor-backed Democrats, but ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage won in five states. Then, Trumka said this - a message seemingly targeted at Democrats, especially the overwhelming frontrunner for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, though he didn't mention her by name.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMKA: Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement, to run out and door knock and phone bank and leaflet, only to have their candidate of choice turn a back towards the policies.

GONYEA: That kind of grassroots effort he describes is what gives labor clout in elections, even after decades of declining membership. The big current issue is President Obama's push for authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trumka opposes it and says it will hurt American workers. Obama disagrees. And so far, the only Democrat in the race, Hillary Clinton, is hedging her bets. At one point she called this deal, quote, "the gold standard." Now she won't say exactly where she stands. After his speech, Trumka talked very briefly with a handful of reporters. He was asked, is she doing what he just warned against?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMKA: No candidate will be able to dodge any issue. It's 18 months. It's a long campaign. I'm sure you'll get to ask her that question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you asked her?

TRUMKA: I'm sure you will, you will, you will. All of us will.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you, though?

TRUMKA: All of us will get a chance to ask her that question.

GONYEA: The big question down the road for labor will be not just her answer, but whether unions do ultimately again have to get behind a candidate who's good enough on their issues. That's why pressure is being applied now. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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