AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Thursday insisted that union members were not responsible for electing President Trump in 2016, but he vowed they would help defeat him in 2020.
He promised an unprecedented mobilization of union workers in 2020, noting that union membership and pro-union sentiment in the country has grown substantially since Mr. Trump took office.
“We are faced with the reality of historic inequality and historic bigotry that goes all the way to the top,” Mr. Trumka said at a breakfast with Washington reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Trumka blamed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s startling loss in 2016 on her failure to turn out voters, not on union voters crossing party lines to elect Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump’s support from blue-collar workers helped him put Rust Belt states in the GOP column for the first time in a generation. But Mr. Trumka said his union members were not the deciding factor.
“She had a 20% labor margin in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Trumka said, adding that the low turnout among black voters for Mrs. Clinton in the state made the difference.
Still, he said the labor movement had redoubled its efforts since then. He described the massive effort by union leadership to better connect with their members and better respond to their concerns.
Mr. Trump has boasted that union members are on his side, even if the union leadership opposes him.
Mr. Trumka, whose organization is the largest federation of labor unions in the U.S., refused to rank the field of Democratic presidential candidates.
He said they all had learned a lesson from 2016 and were more pointedly addressing workers’ issues.
“I think the lesson these Democrats learned is that unless you talk about the economic issues that affect working people, you are not going to get elected,” he said.
Labor unions have been slow to endorse a presidential candidate in 2020 after criticism that they too quickly got behind Mrs. Clinton last time.
Mr. Trumka said decisions about endorsements would come from the membership or from the ground up. And he said the candidates were being closely scrutinized this time.
The labor movement “sets the bar higher than ever in the 2020 presidential election,” he said.
Mr. Trumka announced that he was traveling to Mexico City to meet with Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to discuss the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which has become a thorny issue for Democrats in the 2020 elections.
The Trump administration negotiated the USMCA to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement that labor unions and Democrats long disparaged for sending U.S. manufacturing jobs to low-wage Mexico.
Mr. Trumka said he was seeking assurances from Mr. Lopez Obrador that his country could enforce the new agreement.
It was unclear how assurances from Mr. Lopez Obrador would impact the AFL-CIO’s stance on ratifying the new trade deal.
“The proposed new NAFTA is simply not enforceable,” Mr. Trumka said. “A trade deal without enforcement is a windfall for corporations and a disaster for workers.”
Mr. Trump’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA was a big part of his appeal to blue-collar workers. He made good on the promise, though Congress has yet to ratify USMCA and hand Mr. Trump a trade victory to run on next year.
At the breakfast, Mr. Trumka was pressed by The Washington Times to name pro-worker accomplishments by Mr. Trump. He credited the president with having the guts to redo NAFTA, but he said it wasn’t enough to win the labor vote in 2020.
He said it would be easy to convince union members that Mr. Trump was not on their side. He held up a six-page list of Trump administration actions that he said harmed workers, including weakening oversight of pension plans and defending laws that make it more difficult to unionize workplaces.
“When he opposed every increase to the minimum wage, you have to ask, ‘Does he really care about workers?’ ” Mr. Trumka said.