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Union chief says Trump, having ‘actively hurt’ workers, losing support

WASHINGTON >> The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, who flirted with an alliance with President Donald Trump, delivered a searing critique today of the president’s first year, saying he had used the White House “to actively hurt working people” and favor corporate interests.

“Broken promises are bad enough,” Trumka said during a meeting with reporters. “But President Trump has also used his office to actively hurt working people. He has joined with corporations and their political allies to undermine the right of workers to bargain collectively. He has taken money out of our pockets and made our workplace less safe. He has divided our country, abandoned our values and given cover to racism and other forms of bigotry.”

Trumka, who was criticized by some Democrats and union members for his early show of support for Trump’s presidency, also said internal union surveys showed the president was losing favor among workers.

When Trump was inaugurated last January, an internal survey found that 45 percent of union members approved of him and 55 percent disapproved, according to Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director. Now, he said, 37 percent of members approve of the president while 63 percent disapprove.

That finding mirrors a rise in support among union members for Democratic candidates, Podhorzer said, including in Rust Belt states.

“What we are seeing in these numbers is that most of the people who went to third parties are rejecting what the Republicans are doing nationally and coming back toward the Democrats,” he said.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Working-class support for Trump, a wealthy Manhattan real estate developer and reality television star, was among the more surprising twists in the 2016 campaign. An upswing in the support of white, working-class voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin helped deliver Trump the White House, despite his popular vote loss.

Those voters will be critical both to Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020 and to Republican fortunes in the midterm elections in November. If, as Trumka suggested, support is eroding, then the president’s hold on the Rust Belt would be shaky.

Trumka said the president had been generous with access to the Oval Office and administration officials, and he described Trump as “charming person to person.” One meeting scheduled to last 30 minutes went on for nearly three hours, he said.

But those meetings, and the president’s affability, failed to yield results, Trumka said: “Access isn’t the problem. Impact is the question. Is the access having any impact? So far I would say we haven’t done real well.”

He added, “We have a president who is on all sides and no side.”

On specific issues, Trumka criticized Trump for failing to “label China as a currency manipulator” and said the president had rejected plans to “revitalize our coal communities.”

“And despite calling himself a ‘builder president,’” Trumka continued, “he’s done nothing to invest in America’s infrastructure.”

“He promised a trillion and we’ve seen nothing so far,” Trumka said of the president’s pledge to deliver an enormous program to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“He tells whoppers all the time and denies the obvious truth,” Trumka said.

Trumka said his union would participate aggressively in the midterm elections, backing candidates who supported its agenda in what he labeled “Tier 1” states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, and in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Arizona. Labor unions will also target another dozen states.

Historically, labor has aligned strongly with the Democratic Party, but Trump’s election showed that many in the rank and file were open to a Republican candidate. Trumka said union members were willing to vote for Trump because they felt establishment candidates in both parties had failed them, and they were ready to give the first-time politician “a chance.”

Now, he said, workers are far less enthusiastic. The tax cut plan, Trumka said, favored companies over workers, adding that it “rewards outsourcing” of jobs.

“What he’s doing hasn’t matched up with what he’s said,” Trumka said.

In the last election, Trump outperformed Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, by 4 percentage points among union members. But, Trumka noted, Hillary Clinton underperformed President Barack Obama by about 10 percentage points among union members.

Instead of delivering change, Trump is “doubling down on everything that got us to this point,” Trumka said, referring to the president’s tax and economic policies.

But Trumka also cautioned Democrats to outline an agenda that would appeal to union workers or risk losing their votes again in the midterm elections.

Trumka had initially joined the president’s business council, but resigned in August after the president’s seemingly ambivalent remarks about racists protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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