Labor Day 2018: AFL-CIO’s Trumka on NAFTA, Kavanaugh and the November vote

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka meets with hotel workers and representatives from the CFL, Unite Local One, on March 12, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

WASHINGTON – With Labor Day approaching, I talked with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka about an area of rare agreement with President Donald Trump: replacing NAFTA with new trade agreements between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

We also discussed the AFL-CIO goal to turn out the labor vote in the November midterms and appealing to Trump supporters who are union members.

And with the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to begin Tuesday, Trumka said the AFL-CIO will urge a “no” vote.

While Trump agreed to the outlines of a new deal with Mexico – many details still have to be finalized – talks with Canada have stalled.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO is holding off on endorsing the pact until all aspects of the deal are completed and in writing.

Trumka leads the Washington, D.C.-based federation of 55 unions. The AFL-CIO is allied with Democrats.

On NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement:

“NAFTA set up a rigged game in which working families and the rules that support them and a fair economy were really surrendered in favor of rules written by Wall Street and the CEOs.

“So renegotiating NAFTA and worker privileges, putting working families first has been long, long overdue because the current version, it’s hurt farmers, ranchers, businesses and working people across this country.”

On Mexico and the NAFTA replacement, which will call for raising Mexican wages:

“Mexico had a low-wage model of doing business, and so long as Mexican wages were kept low by having employer-dominated unions, (and) no labor laws and then they don’t even enforce the minimum laws that they have, you would never be able to raise the wages of Mexican workers and make them consumers of our products.”

On trusting the Trump administration on enforcement in the new deal:

“It’s not about trust.

“It’s about having an agreement that workers can enforce, so that we don’t have to through the ups and downs of administrations that support you or don’t support you.”

On whether the AFL-CIO will endorse the new trade pact:

“We’re looking to see a finalized product so that we could make a decision because we know there is going to be things that we like and some things that we don’t like.

“And we’re going to have to make a decision whether on balance it’s good for workers or not.”

What the AFL-CIO is doing leading up to the November midterm vote:

“We are going to have the largest member-to-member programs [in] history, the largest and the deepest, and it started the earliest. We normally start right about now. We started June 1st this year.”

How the AFL-CIO is addressing union members who are pro Trump:

“We’ve been giving them the facts if they want. Telling them we do call balls and strikes. If he does something good for workers, we say it’s good for workers. If he’s (done) something bad for workers, we say it’s bad. I just did a Labor Day interview when I passed out four pages of things that he’s done so far that are bad for workers.

In 2016, “Donald Trump got 3 percentage points more of our members than Mitt Romney. Three. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton got 10 percent less of our members than Barack Obama did. Our members in some instances didn’t believe her. In other instances, they went to a third-party candidate.”

On Kavanaugh:

“This is already the best friend or the most corporate-friendly court that the country’s ever seen. And he will make it, he will make it worse.Look, he has a dangerous track record of protecting the privileges of the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of working people.

“We’ve thoroughly reviewed his record on cases of importance to working people. And as a result we oppose this nomination.”

The impact of the Supreme Court ruling on Janus vs. AFSCME, the Illinois case:

“Are we going to lose some members somewhere? We probably will. Will it be a net gain or a net loss? It’s too early to tell.”

DISCLOSURE: Some unions have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor, Operating Engineers Local 150, SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.

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