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AFL-CIO President Criticizes Trump Administration For Hurting Workers

Richard Trumka
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka (Photo: Linh Do)

“Look, our members are still waiting for the supposed greatness of this economy to reach their kitchen tables.”

The president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest federation of unions in the United States, told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday that the Trump administration has “done more things to hurt workers than they have to help them.”

“He came to our members and said, I’m going to change the rules of the economy, and they believed him. And, quite frankly, I wish he would have changed the rules of the economy,” Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, told Wallace.

“Unfortunately, the rules he’s changing has hurt them. He’s opposed every increase in the minimum wage. He’s changed the regulation to take overtime away from a couple of million people,” Trumka continued. “He’s proposed a trillion dollar cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. He’s done all — he’s rolled back health and safety standards towards workers.”

Trump Administration Labor Policies

Steven Greenhouse, a journalist who has covered labor and workplace issues for over 19 years, explains how Trump has used the trade war with China to posture himself as a champion of the working class, while in reality enacting numerous anti-labor policies.

Shortly after taking office, Trump repealed the Obama administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which made it harder for companies with a history of labor abuse to receive federal contracts. The Trump administration also nullified rules requiring employers to keep records of workplace injuries, making it more difficult for workers to know how dangerous their work environment is.

Trump’s first Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote in the Epic Systems case, which ruled that employers may force workers to settle wage theft, sexual harassment, discrimination, and other disputes through individual arbitration rather than class action lawsuits. Studies show closed-door arbitrations strongly favor employers. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fiercely dissented on the ruling, calling the decision “egregiously wrong,” arguing that “the risks of employer retaliation would likely dissuade most workers from seeking redress alone.”

In March, the Labor Department rolled back a popular proposal to expand overtime pay, a move that Julie Conti, government affairs director with the National Employment Law Project, said made it “patently obvious to everyone” that the Trump administration is “doing the bidding of corporate special interests.”

“The Trump administration deserves no credit for being pro-worker,” Conti asserted.

Trumka Says Economy Is Rigged Against Workers

“I’ve tried to call balls and strikes with him. When he does something that’s good for workers, I say so. When he does something that’s bad for workers, I say so,” Trumka, whose union federation represents over 12 million workers, told Wallace. “And I have to say, unfortunately, while he may not even know what his administration is doing, they’ve done more things to hurt workers than they have to help them. And that’s unfortunate.”

Wallace challenged Trumka’s claim that the Trump administration’s policies have been purely harmful to workers, pointing to low unemployment and wage growth.

“57 million jobs created on his watch. Unemployment rate up 3.7 percent. Workers’ wages up 3.2 percent over the last year,” Wallace said to Trumka. “You talk about the things that you don’t like. Haven’t all of those parts of the Trump policy benefited a lot of your members?”

“Not real wages. Real wages are down because of housing costs and health care,” Trumka responded, arguing that increased costs of living have outweighed wage growth. “His response to that was to propose a trillion dollar cut to Medicare and Medicaid, to oppose increases into the minimum wage.”

Trumka asserted that “this economy has not worked for working people for 30 years,” arguing there needs to be “massive changes” in society to support “main street” rather than Wall Street. Trumka cited an analysis of Federal Reserve data that shows the top 1 percent of the population has gained $21 trillion since 1989, while the bottom 50% has lost $900 billion over the same period.

Decline Of Labor Unions Hurting America’s Workers

In his book, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, labor reporter Steven Greenhouse argues a major driver of wealth inequality and weakened worker protections over the past few decades is the breakdown of labor unions. The rate of unionization in America has declined to its lowest level in over a century- down to 10.5% from a peak of 35%, diminishing the influence of labor in public policy and workplace decision-making. Numerous studies link the decline of the American middle class to the decline of collective bargaining.

While Greenhouse acknowledges unions’ flaws, including corruption and a history of racial and sex discrimination, he argues their diminished stature in the United States has enabled “anti-worker exceptionalism,” with no other advanced nation treating its working class as badly. Greenhouse points to the fact that the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave or guaranteed (paid or unpaid) vacation.

“Look, our members are still waiting for the supposed greatness of this economy to reach their kitchen tables,” Trumka told Wallace. “When they do, I’ll cheer, they’ll cheer and they’ll all support the person who helped get it there.”

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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