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Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: "Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer, and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement."
Alex Wong
/
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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: "Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer, and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement."

Don't expect labor support to get fired up for candidates who hedge their bets. That was the message from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for 2016 presidential candidates. Translation: Hillary Clinton.

"Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement, to run out and door knock and phone bank and leaflet only to have their candidate of choice turn a back towards the policies," Trumka said in a speech at the labor federation's headquarters in Washington.

Trumka never named Clinton, but the Democratic frontrunner has done exactly what Trumka is warning against on trade — hedge.

As secretary of state, Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being hotly debated now in Congress, the " gold standard" of trade agreements. But, now that she's running for president, she has backed away from that.

"Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security," Clinton said in Concord, N.H., last week while touring a community college that focuses on technical skills. "We have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and the skills to be competitive."

Clinton is the only announced Democratic presidential candidate to this point, and she is far ahead in the polls. Independent Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist is set to announce his candidacy Thursday, Vermont Public Radio reports. Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has indicated he is also likely to run and will announce his decision by the end of May.

O'Malley, who is trying to position himself to Clinton's left, didn't mince words during an event at Harvard earlier this month. He cut a web video off of what he said on trade.

"I'm for trade," he said. "And I'm for good trade deals, but I'm against bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Trumka talked of the income inequality and noted that CEO pay has skyrocketed over the last four decades while the wages of average Americans have gone the other way.

"We want action," Trumka said. "We want big ideas, and we want structural change. We want 'Raising Wages.'"

And he said labor won't accept "half measures."

"Workers have swallowed the politics of hedged bets for almost two generations," said Trumka, who has seen labor membership decline in the past generation. "We've waited for the scraps that remain after the pollsters shape the politics. Those days are over. America doesn't need relentlessly cautious half-measures."

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.