The AFL-CIO has not yet decided if it will participate in next year’s Democratic National Convention, as labor union members ponder whether President Obama has earned their support heading into next year’s elections, the organization’s president said Thursday.
Richard L. Trumka described voters as “frustrated” and “upset” and said Mr. Obama blundered when he connected jobs to deficit cuts during the summer debt debate.
He said the major economic speech the president has planned for early next month will tell union members what they need to know about whether he will be worth supporting, and said the president must let tax cuts expire, push back against calls for more cuts and focus on spending to boost the U.S. job market instead.
“I think he made a strategic mistake when he confused the job crisis with the deficit crisis, when he would talk about job creation and in the same sentence talk about deficit reduction, and people got confused,” he said. “He started playing on the Republican ground of deficit reduction. Look, we don’t have a short-term deficit crisis. It does not exist. We have a short-term jobs crisis. And if you fix the job crisis, the deficit crisis goes away.”
Mr. Trumka said union turnout will drop in the 2012 election if Mr. Obama does not show the kind of leadership unions are calling for, and said some individual unions have already decided they will not take part in next year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The overall AFL-CIO has not yet made a decision about participation, he said.
“We’re still talking about that,” he said. “There are some of our affiliates that won’t participate, there are some of our affiliates that will participate.”
He said there will be labor union members who run as delegates to the convention, but said he does not yet know whether he will recommend for the AFL-CIO to attend.
The Obama campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But on Thursday it announced its new Project Vote effort, which it said was aimed at getting key Democratic constituencies registered to vote and then pushing them to the polls.
The effort will focus on women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities and young adults.
For its part, the White House has said the economy speech, which is slated for some time after Labor Day, will also challenge lawmakers in Congress to raise taxes and cut spending to a level above the $1.5 trillion target both parties agreed to earlier this month.
“The White House and the president will lay out some specific ideas about how to enact something, about how the supercommittee can go beyond their $1.5 trillion-dollar mandate,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters covering the president’s vacation this week.
Mr. Trumka has been the leader of the AFL-CIO since 2009, and is on Mr. Obama’s jobs commission.
He said unions, which have seen a steady decline in membership, remain healthy and pointed to the recent recall elections in Wisconsin as proof that they are active, relevant and successful.
Though the recalls failed to flip control of the Senate from the GOP to Democrats, two Republicans lost their seats, shrinking their numbers to a bare majority.
And Mr. Trumka said across the elections, held mostly in conservative districts, the Democratic candidates won 49 percent of the vote, which he said sent a sobering message to Republicans.