AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the U.S. election as votes continue to be counted.
ZACK GUZMAN: A lot of chatter being made about traditional blue collar workers here in unions that would have been a traditional support for Joe Biden. So here to discuss that with us is Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President. And Richard, it's good to chat with you today. Thanks for coming on. What's your take on how this is all shaking out? Because I know your guy's union group threw your support behind Joe Biden. So what's your estimate of how this is playing out now before your eyes?
RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, despite the worst pandemic in a century, working people came out in record numbers to exercise our rights as citizens and now those votes will be counted. And when they are counted in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, we will win those states and Joe Biden will ultimately become president. Think about this, Zack. Joe Biden has received more votes than any other presidential candidate in the history of this country. More people want to change direction for this country than we've ever had before. That's encouraging to us.
AKIKO FUJITA: Richard, it was interesting to see some of the polling yesterday where there were questions about which one was more important, whether it was the coronavirus or the economy, although inevitably, those two are tied together as well. Another issue we've talked about that's important to the labor unions is the trade policy for the president. Which way do you think it swayed? And I'm wondering if you have any insight between those votes, for example, from union members in Michigan versus a Pennsylvania.
RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, both of those issues are important. Look, if you want to get the economy back moving again, you can't do that until the pandemic's under control. And you can't get the pandemic under control until you protect essential workers. This administration really has abandoned us. OSHA has become a cadaver. It doesn't protect us. They haven't been willing to give us a standard to help us enforce health and safety standards and keep people safe on the job. And so workers are saying, we want safety on the job.
And you're seeing that in Pennsylvania and you're seeing that in Michigan, you're seeing it in Wisconsin as well. There are, differing groups had different emphasis on the issues that moved them the most. Of our members generally look at one, their health and safety. Two, who's going to take care of them. And then they looked at the broken promises of this president and said, I think we'll be able to know the exact numbers tomorrow, but in fairly high numbers our members voted for Joe Biden in those states across the blue wall, as they call it.
ZACK GUZMAN: And Richard, obviously, I mean, you're hitting on kind of the concerns here for voters out there. And if you look at the exit polls, it was interesting to see that break between Biden voters and Trump voters. Because on that front, clearly the economy outranked coronavirus fears for Trump voters. When you look at the Biden voters, the top one had to be controlling the pandemic.
So when you looked at your ranks in terms of how that was shaking out, because we saw a lot of this recovery taking place in some of these key battleground states, things may have seemed to be improving on the economic front. So what was your estimation of maybe how that influenced this heading into the final days the election?
RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, things haven't improved very much on the economic front for workers. In the last quarter, we saw $637 billion reduction in disposable income. That means that workers out there are spending, going into debt in order to buy necessities. We saw that. We still see a high number of people unemployed. 24 million people receiving unemployment benefits. So we hadn't seen the turnaround. And the people that are working are worried about their health and safety, because they don't have OSHA to protect them.
I think they were driven by a lot of things. I think one is their health and safety. Two, I think it is, they want to get the economy open, but how do you do that safely and protect those workers? Most of our members believe that unless you protect the essential workers' health and safety, you're not going to get the economy open. Because if you force it open, they get sick, they shut down again. So the two are inextricably linked and I guess some people put an emphasis on one and not the other. And we looked at both of them I think.
AKIKO FUJITA: I mean, the two are linked. But it was interesting yesterday to hear how people voted and how people viewed the issue of the coronavirus, our earlier guest saying that maybe it wasn't as big of a deal as the Democratic Party had seen it. That a lot of voters came out and said, look, we are concerned about the virus, but we're concerned about the economy more. There's no indication there's going to be an economic shutdown.
But I'm just curious how you view those two. Can we continue, I mean, especially in these factories, these are not jobs that can be done from home. You've got to go out and keep these jobs going. And so I'm curious how you view that dynamic moving forward, especially at a time when we've seen a significant uptick in infection.
RICHARD TRUMKA: It's pretty simple actually. We don't think you can fix the economy until you fix the pandemic. We don't think you can fix the pandemic until you take care of essential workers. Look at what's happened in meat packing. The president ordered meat packers back to work. But he gave them no health and safety help. And so literally thousands and thousands have been infected and hundreds have died because of that. You're seeing that in transit. You're seeing that in food and retail.
So the issue is, can one, we get a pandemic standard that OSHA will allow us to enforce? Because OSHA has the fewest number of inspectors now that they've had in their history. So if they can't enforce those laws, at least if we have a standard, we can do it ourselves. And that's what we're trying to do. You cannot open up the economy until you protect those essential workers.