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Trumka: Trump Can Side with Wall Street or Working Class

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka speaks at the National Press Club in Washington on April 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – How President Trump balances the desires of Wall Street and the American working class will define his presidency, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Tuesday.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric in the Midwest – where union representation is strong and jobs are declining – was key to his success in the 2016 election. But Trumka said that labor groups are watching closely to see that the president fulfills his promise to defend the working class.

In each of the past three years, corporate profits have reached record highs, yet American wages have remained stagnant for half a century. Corporate CEOs are now making more than 300 times the average worker. Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelēz International, makes more than $9,000 an hour, while some of the company’s workers in Mexico make about a dollar an hour.

“That’s simply unacceptable,” Trumka told a receptive audience at the National Press Club. “Despite living in the richest country in the world, in its richest point in history, our overall standard of living is going down. This is immoral, and it’s an economic crisis. The imbalance in our economy causes real people real pain.”

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, which Trumka has headed since 2009, represent 55 unions and 12.5 million members. Trumka met with Trump last month; the two discussed healthcare, infrastructure and wages, among other issues.

Trumka on Tuesday denounced the language that the Trump administration included in the American Health Care Act, calling it an “all-out attack on workers’ healthcare security,” pointing to potential cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, a projected boost in the number of uninsured citizens and increased taxation for healthcare plans.

“We want healthcare for all, not for a few,” Trumka said, adding that the healthcare bill’s defeat sent a powerful message that working-class groups will fend for themselves.

Trumka also accused Trump of planning to allow the worst aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement to survive, despite the president calling NAFTA the worst trade deal in history during his campaign. Following the GOP’s failure to pass the healthcare bill, the 23-year-old trade agreement with Mexico and Canada is considered one of Trump’s next major legislative undertakings along with tax reform.

Trumka did praise Trump’s proposal to invest $1 trillion in American infrastructure, a significant investment in deteriorating roads, bridges and waterways around the country. Trumka said that $1 trillion is “the right scale to be talking about, and the labor movement is ready to hit the ground running with it.”

The labor leader criticized Trump’s 2018 budget proposal for its potential cuts to the Delta Regional Authority, a training program for labor workers, and potential cuts to labor safety programs OSHA and MSHA.

But the topic that Trumka focused on most during his speech was income equality, arguing that the economy is “tilted steeply against working people and in favor of corporations.” He said that America’s younger generation is bearing the brunt of the economic imbalance in America.

“The idea that anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules has been fading away for this generation, and unfortunately for too many others, as well,” he said.

Trumka said that inequality is a choice, not an inevitability, and the problem won’t be solved until every American worker has the ability to bargain for better wages with his or her employer. The Bill of Rights, for its freedoms of speech and assembly, he said, should afford every worker that right, but the system is not working. Currently, only unions have significant leverage with their employers, and the AFL wants Trump to extend that right to all workers.

“President Trump needs to decide who he stands for: the coal miner, farmers, the steel workers and other regular Americans who he promised to help in his campaign, or the Wall Street tycoons, who are rigging the economy at our expense,” Trumka said.