Richard Trumka Is Playing a Very Dumb Game With Trump

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On Wednesday, John Gizzi, White House correspondent for the conservative site Newsmax, wrote that AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka had declined to rule out endorsing Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. “Well, he will be looked at [for the labor endorsement],” Gizzi quoted Trumka as saying. “Everyone [of the presidential candidates] will be looked at.”

In response, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten publicly called on Trumka to clarify his statement:


Earlier today, Weingarten walked her comments back, saying, without any real explanation, that Trumka had clarified his remarks:

Responding to an email from Splinter about Trumka’s comments, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO said Gizzi’s headline was “nothing more than clickbait” and sent along a clip from C-SPAN of the exchange and the comments that preceded it. (Disclosure: Gizmodo Media Group is unionized with the Writers Guild of America East, which is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.)


Let’s go through it in detail.

“Trump got three percentage points more of our members than Romney did. Unfortunately for her, Hillary got ten percentage points less from our members than Obama did,” Trumka began, adding that this amounted to around 58% to 36% in favor of Clinton.


He continued:

You had people that were mad, who were looking for someone who was going to change the economy. Our members were looking for someone who was going to shake up the status quo, because the status quo wasn’t working. Wages have been flat, assault on their healthcare, assaults on their pension, their kids can’t go to college with that amount of debt...some thought they found that candidate in Donald Trump and likeminded politicians who promised to lift up workers and shake up Wall Street.

Today, nearly all of those promises are either broken or unfulfilled...I decided to put together all the things that this administration has done to hurt workers. It’s a pretty formidable list. It makes our jobs less healthy and safe, takes overtime pay away from people, he attempted to kill the federal unions with executive orders, he abolished things like labor management councils...What I do is real simple. When he does something that’s right for workers, I tell workers and the country that what he’s doing is right. When he does something that I think is bad for workers, I tell them that I think it’s bad for them.

Unfortunately, the number of things we’ve had to oppose is greater than the number of things that we could support. Our members are still working in an economy that’s getting worse for them, not better for doesn’t matter to a worker if the GDP’s great and unemployment’s at 3.9[%] if their wages are still flat, they still don’t have healthcare, they still don’t have enough savings and retirement income to retire on, and their kids can’t go to school because it costs too much or they come out with a mountain of debt.


When asked what Trump has done right, Trumka said that he is “going in the right direction on trade” and that the AFL-CIO would support a rewrite of NAFTA “if it’s a good agreement,” while also saying the unon would oppose it if it’s a bad agreement. OK.

Then Gizzi reiterated his question, asking Trumka if the AFL-CIO would consider endorsing Trump.


“What happens is that we will consider every candidate, so I don’t want you writing a story saying ‘Trumka says he’ll endorse Trump,’ not saying that,” Trumka said. “I’m saying we’ll consider every candidate who’s running, and our members will help us decide which one they think will most effectively represent the rule of the workers of the country, and help them change the rules of the economy so workers get a fair share.”

“Will he be considered? Will he be looked at? Every candidate will be looked at,” he concluded.


This is a very dumb game for Trumka to be playing, especially after the backlash that came with his role on Trump’s now-defunct business council. He began his answer to the question by discrediting the notion that there was some huge union swing in favor of Trump, rather than a double-digit swing against Clinton’s numbers and only a modest improvement for Trump from the vote that Romney, the guy who said he “likes being able to fire people,” received. Then, he spent several minutes further outlining all of the ways that Trump has broken all of his promises to workers.

And yet, at the end of all of that, he essentially said that the AFL-CIO will treat Trump the same as they would any other candidate. (When asked if the AFL-CIO agreed with Weingarten’s opinion that Trump should be “disqualified” from an endorsement, a spokesperson responded: “We think President Trumka’s words speak for themselves.”)


It’s a good bet that the AFL-CIO will ultimately definitely not endorse Donald Trump in 2020, but that’s not the point. We are now a year and a half into the Trump administration and it has been an abject fucking disaster for the working class. In addition to all of the ways that Trumka himself outlined, the Janus decision turned out the way it did because of Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, his record indicates he could very well be the most anti-worker justice on a court that is full of them.

Trump has a record to run on. It’s really fucking bad, and there’s no indication it’s going to get better anytime soon. Labor is locked in a war for its very survival, and it’s long past time that we stopped pretending otherwise.


Update, 5:10 PM ET: This post has been updated with a response from the AFL-CIO.

Correction: This post initially said that Randi Weingarten was the head of the National Education Association. She is the head of the American Federation of Teachers.

News editor, Splinter

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