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Richard Trumka on new admin: We believe ‘Biden is committed’ to strengthening unions

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President joins Yahoo Finance Live to break down why America needs to come together to strengthen the labor movement under Biden's administration.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: I want to extend the conversation here on that front with the idea and the focus here in on labor, of course-- front line workers obviously very much wanting to see an increase in the seriousness in which this country approaches the coronavirus pandemic. And for more on that, I want to bring on the leader of the largest federation of unions in the United States, the president of the AFL-CIO. Richard Trumka joins us once again. Mr Trumka, good to have you back on with us today.

Of course, you guys endorsed Joe Biden for president back in May. We've come a long way since then. You were on with us just as President Biden was winning the election, and you made it pretty clear that a lot of workers out there felt abandoned by President Trump. So what are you going to want to see President Biden flex on the issue of labor? And I know you just spoke with him a few days before inauguration, so what are your expectations, having connected with him?

RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, Zack, let me say this. I think workers woke up with hope in their heart today, because dignity and humanity and optimism and compassion have been restored to the White House. Yesterday was a good day.

But look, here's what we need to happen. We need some bold and decisive action to address the inequality of income, the inequality of opportunity, and the inequality of power. We need Democrats and Republicans to work together to get the pandemic under control first, to keep workers safe, to make massive investments in America's infrastructure, and then get rid of our antiquated labor laws that have prevented workers from getting fair wages and benefits and Economic. security. We think that the Biden administration is committed to that. And we're committed to working with them to make sure that that becomes a reality.

AKIKO FUJITA: And you've got a potentially big ally in the cabinet there if, in fact, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is approved or is confirmed as the Labor Secretary. He's a former union member. What conversations have you had with him, and how do you think having a former union guy in that post increases the likelihood of some of these reforms that you just mentioned getting past?

RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, Marty-- for the first time in recent history, the Secretary of Labor is going to have standing inside the cabinet. Also going to have standing up on the Hill with Democrats and Republicans alike. Marty carried the tools, so he knows what workers need. We don't have to go and tell him everything. He understands that, and he comes with a strength and a clarity and a power that most other people don't have because he was a worker.

He also understands how to get things done. He was mayor of Boston. He knows how to work with people of both sides of the aisle. He'll do that. The most important thing is, I think, though-- he has the ear of the President and the respect of the President, and now a worker's voice will be at the cabinet and it'll be heard loud and clear because one of us will be at the cabinet speaking at all times.

ZACK GUZMAN: You know, Mr Trumka, as I said, you were critical of kind of the lack of protections in place before. You said OSHA has become a cadaver last time we chatted here. I'd be curious to get your take on maybe what protections you want to come see through here as we keep hearing the Defense Protection Act being flexed here, more concerns as cases continue to rise. So what protections do you want to see in the early days?

RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, I think we need a emergency pandemic standard-- the administration is committed to getting that done-- so that we have enforceable standards on the job. Second of all, they're committed to using the Defense Production Act to get enough PPE on the job to protect our members. And then third of all, they're committing to helping us get flex grants to the states, so that the states can actually help us at the job level.

Our employers, if we work together with them and we work together with the state and local, federal governments-- I think we can get this pandemic under control, we can get the economy running back again, and we can protect workers in the process. President Biden is committed to worker health and safety. He knows that it's more than just coming home from work. If you come home from work sick, you've failed. So our job is to make sure that those essential workers not only come home from work safe and sound, but they're healthy as well.

AKIKO FUJITA: Richard, you're talking about wages and benefits, but of course, safety is another key issue here that has emerged, especially for these essential workers you talked about. Where does the union stand right now on mandatory vaccinations? That's something a lot of companies are struggling with-- whether, in fact, they should require their employees to get it. What do you think about that? Where do you stand on that conversation?

RICHARD TRUMKA: Look, we're going to encourage everybody to get vaccinated. That's the solution to all of this. If we vaccinate people, we really do get to the place where we can get the pandemic under control and then we can actually move our economy forward again. We can create the jobs that have been lost. We can change the rules so that everybody wins in this economy.

But it starts with vaccinations. And we're going to be for getting everybody vaccinated that we can. It's a complex issue when you come to mandating it. Should it be mandated at the federal level? Should it be mandated at the state level? Because if you go just employer to employer, you're going to get a high and a low there that may not be the best way to do it.

So we're looking at it. We're working with the administration. And we're going to work with our employers to make sure that we can get everybody vaccinated as fast as we can.

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's talk quickly about big tech. This is one of those sectors that have long resisted organization among their employees. And yet earlier this month, we had Google establish its union-- the Alphabet Workers Union. We're talking, still, a very small part of the employee-- the work base. So not necessarily the same kind of unions that we would think about traditionally. How does the AFL-CIO see-- how do you see your role in helping facilitate some of these conversations, and have you had direct talks, at least with Google's union?

RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, we need to change the labor laws in this country because they're antiquated. They were drafted back in the '70s, and instead of helping workers get better wages and better benefits and job security, they're used to lower wages, take away benefits, and take away economic security. So first thing we have to do is change those laws so that they're modern, up-to-date, and they apply to people like Google and Facebook and all the others in the tech sector.

Second of all, we have had conversations with them. We want to work with them. We think that we can help them be better companies, better-run companies, and we can help their employees. And I can tell you this-- their employees sure are interested in having a voice on the job, because they've been getting ground up by those high tech companies, just like they got ground up by coal mines back at the turn of the century.

They don't get listened to. They don't get a fair shake. They don't get the security that they're entitled to. So we're working with the employees to make sure that they get a voice on the job as well.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, Richard Trumka, I appreciate you coming back on here. Again, just to maybe put an exclamation point on it, interesting symbolism of seeing President Biden also add and feature the bust of one of the nation's most celebrated labor rights activists in Cesar Chavez in that office. Very interesting to see there. Love to have you back on whenever you're free to continue this conversation, but thanks for joining us today.

RICHARD TRUMKA: Zack, any time you want me on, give me a shout. I'll be happy to come back on. Take care and stay safe, my friend.