By Richard Trumka | Contributor
Feb. 28, 2017, at 7:00 a.m.
When President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday, working people will be listening closely. But it is in deeds, not words, that we are judging this administration.
A win or loss for working families doesn’t necessarily follow Washington D.C.’s traditional partisan lines, and that’s why the AFL-CIO is putting a premium on political independence. We are measuring each action and policy based on our core values and the real-life impact they will have on the hard-working women and men we represent.
Union members come in all political stripes, and so do working families. Yet we are united by one grim reality: The current economic rules simply do not work for ordinary people. They were written by and for big corporations and have resulted in a level of economic inequality and insecurity that is unsustainable.
Trump was able to win the White House in large part by railing against this status quo – promising to rein in Wall Street and restore jobs and opportunity for American workers. But his first month in office has been a mixed bag at best and a disappointment at worst.
On the positive side, Trump withdrew the United States from the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership. Working people put that unfair agreement on life support through our activism – and the White House was right to pull the plug. The president has also shown an interest in rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement and making key and overdue investments in our crumbling infrastructure.
Trump should use the joint session to lay out more specifics. For example, infrastructure without project labor agreements guaranteeing fair wages is unacceptable, and the way we pay for these investments matter. In addition, a rewrite of NAFTA that further tilts our economy in favor of big corporations is retreat, not progress.
And speaking of retreat, Trump’s cabinet of corporate billionaires flies in the face of his campaign rhetoric. Working people were proud to beat back one of the most dangerous nominees, fast food CEO and labor-law violator Andy Puzder. But from the Education and Treasury Departments to Health and Human Services, the president has opted to reward the authors and beneficiaries of our broken economic rules.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is fond of saying that “personnel is policy.” So it is disappointing that instead of holding Wall Street accountable, Trump is dismantling something called the “fiduciary rule” put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers from big banks. The rule says financial advisors have to put your interests above their own, and repealing it would transfer $18 billion from workers to Wall Street. He is also threatening to abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already forced Wall Street to return nearly $12 billion directly to the customers they cheated.
And this is all without mentioning Trump’s attack on federal employees, support of wage-reducing right-to-work laws or mass deportation plan that violates our nation’s core principles and will drive down pay for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
So our message to the president is this: America’s working people need raising wages, and we need them now.
That’s why, as a labor movement, we have put a new focus on building power from the ground up. The single best way to win good pay, health care, a safe workplace and a secure retirement is through a collective bargaining agreement. If Trump really wants to help workers, he should be using his office to help more of us organize into unions.
But we’re not waiting for politicians to figure out what America’s working families need. We’re in the business of building a bigger labor movement. We’re ready to stand on picket lines. We’re poised to crowd into city halls and school board meetings and state houses. We are determined to make our voices heard.
And, yes, we’ll hold Trump accountable for the promises he made to workers on the campaign trail. Depending on the path he chooses, the president will either have a constructive partner or an unrelenting adversary.
Working people are watching, listening and ready to act in the interest of ourselves, our families and the country we love.