AFL-CIO Leader Slams Trump In Labor Day Remarks

By Amanda Ottaway
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Law360 (September 3, 2020, 9:47 PM EDT) -- AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the strength of American labor workers in remarks Thursday, criticizing President Trump for weakening employee protections and safety standards and calling on union members across the country to vote him out.

Speaking at a virtual Labor Day breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, the labor federation leader railed on Trump, calling him "the worst president to have at the worst time" and criticizing him for breaking the promises he made to workers when he was elected.

"At the time, trade, infrastructure and manufacturing stood out as areas for common ground," Trumka said of 2016. "But Donald Trump failed. He failed to seek common ground with us. He failed to consult common sense or demonstrate common decency. He broke his promises on infrastructure and manufacturing. The jobs he said were coming never came. Instead of rebuilding America, he's torn it apart."

Trump's failure to enact workplace safety standards during the COVID-19 pandemic has left "millions" of workers in danger of infection, Trumka said. The U.S. Department of Labor has not issued a coronavirus safety standard rule. The AFL-CIO sued the agency in May, demanding it issue a specific rule that would require employers to protect their workers during the pandemic, but the suit was tossed the following month.

While he decried the overall state of the country and its leadership, Trumka highlighted labor's popularity among the public, citing a new Gallup poll that found 65% of Americans are in favor of labor unions, their highest approval rating in nearly two decades.

According to Gallup, that approval is split dramatically along party lines, with 83% of Democrats and just 45% of Republicans in favor. Overall approval for labor unions hit its highest point ever at 75% in the 1950s, according to Gallup.

Trumka also said Thursday that Trump's picks for posts at the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor are union-busters. The president also failed to provide a full-time director at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Trumka said.

Trump has weakened protections for mine workers — which Trumka, a third-generation miner, said "offends me personally" — and blocked restrictions on construction noise and harmful contaminants, the union president said.

"What have we learned from all of this? We've learned that working people cannot afford Donald Trump. We've learned that workers might not be able to survive another four years with Donald Trump," Trumka said.

The labor federation has endorsed Joe Biden in the 2020 general election, and in his Thursday remarks Trumka noted what he called "defect[ions] from the Democratic Party" by union workers, which he said helped Trump win the presidency in 2016.

Early in the Trump administration, Trumka said he would be willing to work with the president, which he acknowledged Thursday, though he resigned from Trump's manufacturing council in 2017 after the president's response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that left one person dead.

Trumka also called for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which passed the House in February and would rework some U.S. labor laws in favor of workers, including by hobbling state "right-to-work" laws. Biden supports the bill.

The National Right to Work Foundation issued its own separate Labor Day statement Thursday, bashing Biden's plan to act on so-called right-to-work laws, as well as criticizing labor leaders.

"Big Labor's top officials in their shiny multi-million-dollar headquarters continue to double down on compulsion," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the National Right to Work Committee.

"Instead of earning the voluntary support of those whom they claim to represent like private organizations, union bosses continue to look to government to grant them more special powers to compel workers to associate with unions against their will," he said.

--Editing by Breda Lund.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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