Union Enthusiasm for Obama Re-Election Fades, AFL-CIO’s Chief Trumka Says

President Barack Obama faces waning enthusiasm from union members as he prepares for his 2012 re- election bid, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

“It will be more challenging this time than it was last time to motivate our members,” Trumka, 61, said in an interview today at Bloomberg’s offices in Washington.

Trumka, head of the largest U.S. labor organization, said union members are frustrated by “wasted energy” in Washington on issues that he said don’t help workers: “hysteria” about the federal deficit, a White House review of regulations and Obama’s support for free-trade agreements.

Labor leaders said in recent weeks that they would withhold financial support in next year’s election from candidates who haven’t sided with unions consistently, a move that may hurt Democrats who have relied on labor backing. The International Association of Fire Fighters has vowed to withhold campaign money from federal races, throwing its money into state-level campaigns.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO will spend this summer “holding candidates on both sides accountable.” Candidates who have wavered -- those he called “acquaintances” -- won’t receive support, he said, declining to name such politicians.

“It will be more challenging this time than it was last time to motivate our members,” Richard Trumka said in an interview today at Bloomberg’s offices in Washington. Photo: David Rogowski/Bloomberg Close

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“It will be more challenging this time than it was last time to motivate our members,” Richard Trumka said in an interview today at Bloomberg’s offices in Washington. Photo: David Rogowski/Bloomberg

“Those Democrats that are friends are going to get more” aid than in the past, he said.

Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO on Sept. 16, 2009. He served as its secretary-treasurer from 1995 to 2009 and previously was president of the United Mine Workers. The son and grandson of coal miners, he began working in Pennsylvania mines in 1968.

Obama a ‘Friend’

Asked if Obama is a friend or an acquaintance, Trumka said, “He’s a friend. There’s a lot of things we disagree with him on. There’s far more things that we agree with him on.”

Obama’s support for free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama has disappointed his union supporters, Trumka said.

“During the campaign, he made significant promises to do an inventory of the trade agreements” to be certain they protected worker rights, Trumka said. “He’s obviously forgotten that promise.”

The results announced last week from Obama’s review of regulations throughout the government that burden business produced little of substance, Trumka said.

Faulting politicians of both parties for pursuing “the corporate agenda,” Trumka said more government spending to create jobs would revive the economy and lead to a reduction in the deficit.

‘Outrageous, Illegal’

Republicans are using “outrageous and probably illegal” tactics in their defense of Boeing Co. (BA), the subject of an April 20 complaint by the National Labor Relations Board, Trumka said.

“It’s a strategy, it’s not an accident,” Trumka said. “It’s a way for them to chill the NLRB.”

Lawmakers have threatened to cut off the board’s funds and demanded that the agency turn over documents related to its complaint that Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, retaliated against its union employees in the Seattle area by building a non-union factory in South Carolina for its 787 Dreamliner.

“No company is beyond the law, and that includes Boeing,” Trumka said. Chicago-based Boeing has denied an anti-union motivation for its decision to add the South Carolina line.

While business groups and Republicans say the NLRB, a five- member board, has tilted toward unions since Obama’s nominees gained a majority, Trumka said the panel is doing too little to protect worker rights to form unions.

“Many unions have almost given up on the NLRB because it’s so fraught with delays,” he said, He called for the board to permit quicker union elections and redress for employees who are fired for organizing.

Trumka said he’d like to see the U.S. become more like a European nation that provides pensions and health care for all its citizens. He said he is accustomed to criticism and doesn’t mind if conservatives call that socialism.

“Being called a socialist is a step up for me,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at hrosenkrantz@bloomberg.net; Stephanie Armour in Washington at sarmour@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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