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AFL-CIO chief 'applauds' Trump on trade, but gives his record a thumbs down

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

Richard Trumka, president of the U.S.’s largest labor group, AFL-CIO, appreciates President Donald Trump’s stance on trade. However, as it stands now, the president does not have a record that helps workers, according to Trumka.

“I applaud him for his willingness to take on trade and having a different paradigm on trade,” Trumka told Rick Newman at Yahoo Finance’s All Market Summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. “What we tried to do since day one is call balls and strikes. When he does stuff good for workers, we say it.”

The union leader, who presides over almost 13 million members, said that it wasn’t clear whether Trump’s solutions would be sufficient, and whether the improvements in the new trade policies will outweigh the stuff that was “ceded to corporate America.”

Trump has gained some goodwill with the workers’ community by attempting to stop jobs from leaving the country, occasionally personally getting involved, as he did in the case of United Technologies’ Carrier.

But with these loudly trumpeted wins have also come losses that Trumka’s unions have not overlooked, such as the tax bill that largely benefited the shareholder class and corporations and even contributed in some cases to jobs being sent out of the country, Trumka said.

Trumka pointed out that when it comes to regulations, Donald Trump has thrown out important worker protections in his desire to cut two for every new one.

“That may be alright with superfluous regulation, but when you’re talking health and safety, workers’ rights, health care rights, that doesn’t apply,” Trumka said. “He did away with things that hurt workers significantly.”

Trumka pointed to regulations the Trump administration cut regarding the chemicals beryllium and silica.

“Breathe [silica] and it causes you to not exchange oxygen to blood so it kills you from gasping. We’ve known about that since the ’30s. We didn’t get silica regulation till the last year of the Obama administration,” Trumka said. “[Trump] came in and overturned that. Seven people die every day from silicosis. Beryllium — exact same thing.”

Trumka also pointed out that Trump overturned an Obama-era labor rule that would have extended mandatory overtime pay to those making less than $47,000 — affecting about 4 million workers.

When it comes to the 2020 election and endorsing Trump, Trumka says the AFL-CIO will take an even-handed approach.

“What we will do is balance what he’s done positively and negatively and see where it comes out and let our members make a decision,” said Trumka. “If that decision were made today, that balance would be against.”

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, retail, personal finance, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.