Trump trashes Trumka on Labor Day
Richard Trumka | Alex Brandon/AP

WASHINGTON-—In an unusual way to mark Labor Day, the president of the United States trashed the president of the AFL-CIO.

The exchange started when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka evaluated GOP President Donald Trump’s record in an appearance on Fox News Sunday aired by the pro-Trump Fox News Network.

Mixed, but on balance, negative was Trumka’s verdict.

Trump made it political in a nasty responding tweet at 8:28 a.m. Eastern Time on Labor Day. And then some tweeters jumped on him.

The discussion started with Trumka’s exchange with questioner Chris Wallace over NAFTA, the controversial 25-year-old U.S.-Canada-Mexico “free trade” treaty which organized labor strongly opposed because it would cost U.S. workers jobs. Economists calculate companies have shifted 700,000 to one million U.S. jobs, most of them in factories, to Mexico due to lower wages, no worker rights and weak environmental laws.

Trump touted a renegotiated free trade “framework” but with Mexico only, not Canada. It has higher North American content for cars and requires almost half of a car be manufactured by workers making at least $16 hourly. The average Mexican autoworker – toiling for GM, Ford and other car firms – makes $3. That helps U.S. workers, Trump said last week.

Trumka stuck to a theme he’s touted since the day Trump entered the White House; Workers would support Trump initiatives that are positive for them and oppose those that are not. Overall, he told Wallace, Trump’s record tilts negative.

And on the new U.S.-Mexico pact, Trumka reiterated, the devil is in the details – and in enforcement.

“If we can’t monitor it and enforce it effectively, then the agreement will fail for workers and it will fail for the country. So what we’re pushing right now, and we’re working with Ambassador (Robert) Lighthizer is, is a way to let us effectively monitor what’s going on the ground and then enforce the agreement regardless of who’s in the White House,” Trumka said.

That’s when Wallace veered away from NAFTA. Using the “Big Labor” corporate canard, Wallace cited statistics – 3.9 percent joblessness and 4.2 GDP growth – that Trump touted in his Labor Day message several days before as proving Trump’s economy is good for workers.

Trumka said those numbers are nice, but a few others got left out. Like wages and gasoline prices.

“Wages have been down since the first of the year. Gas prices have been up since the first of the year. So, overall, workers aren’t doing as well. He passed the tax bill that encourages companies to outsource. We can’t agree to support something like that. He’s — every place we can, Chris, we do. But, unfortunately, right now, the scale is weighted against him because he’s done more to hurt workers than to help workers.

“When he was elected, I said I would call balls and strikes. When he did something that was good for workers, we’d support him. When he did something that was bad for workers, we would oppose him.

“He hasn’t come up with an infrastructure program that could put a lot of us back to work. He overturned a regulation that would actually deny over five million people overtime that they would have had. He overturned some health and safety regulations that will hurt us on the job. Enforcement of OSHA and MSHA isn’t what it should be. So we keep trying to find areas where we can work with him. And where we can, we do.”

Then Wallace, and later Trump, dragged the politics in – and so did tweeters responding to Trump. Some weren’t kind to the U.S. president.

Wallace started it by citing the AFL-CIO’s new ad campaign about electing pro-worker candidates this November, but he charged it would be a pro-Democratic campaign.

Trumka corrected him, first noting the issues in the ads are based on unionists going door-to-door, talking to workers and their families to discover the top issues. Then he noted unions – in their ads and on the ground – support pro-worker candidates regardless of party. “Unfortunately, most are Democrats, because Democrats support workers more than Republicans. We’d like to change that.”

Trump didn’t listen to that. He jumped, instead.

“Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, represented his union poorly on television this weekend. Some of the things he said were so against the working men and women of our country, and the success of the U.S. itself, that it is easy to see why unions are doing so poorly. A Dem!” Trump tweeted.

Trump did not offer evidence for his statements. Some tweeters jumped on him. Others defended Trump and called unions corrupt or unnecessary.

“Unions have been under attack by Republicans for decades,” one tweeter, identifying himself by the phrase “How easy we forget,” wrote. “Red states outlaw them altogether. Unions are what level the playing field between workers & employers. The average American worker is under attack & EVERYTHING trump has done since taking office makes life worse for us.”

“Unions are as American as they can get! Stop attacking them on Labor Day!” Ed Krassenstein tweeted.

“Friendly reminder that Republicans have voted 9 times in favor of raising their own salary, and in that same time they’ve also voted 14 times against raising the minimum wage,” tweeted Andrea Junker.

One tweeter summed it all up, replying to a Trump supporter – and including the president in his comment: “People like you are the reason why unions had to be created in the first place.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.