Q&A with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

At a September 2 Monitor breakfast, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka discussed the economic outlook, his union members' feelings about President Obama, and his relations with the Sarah Palin.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor/File
Labor leader Richard Trumka, at a Monitor breakfast September 2, predicted Republicans will take control of neither the House nor the Senate in the 2010 elections.

Labor leader Richard Trumka became president of the AFL-CIO in 2009 after serving for 15 years as the organization's secretary-treasurer. Earlier, he was president of the United Mine Workers. Mr. Trumka was the guest speaker at the Sept. 2 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C. Odds that Republicans will take control of Congress:

"I think they get control of neither body."

If Republicans do take control of the House:

"That means that any chance of progress will be ended. You will go back to the economy that we saw where corporate [America] and Wall Street ran wild. You won't get health and safety laws passed even though miners will continue to be killed.... You won't see constructive legislation. You won't see extensions of unemployment. You won't see job creation…. And you will see the Social Security age [for retiring with full benefits] go up and the benefits go down."

President Obama's focus on the jobs issue:

"I think he has been. And I think he has not effectively communicated it. The problem started whenever he started, in the same sentence, talking about job creation and deficit reduction. He confused people with that and gave credence to the notion that the deficit had to be addressed. Look, we have no short-term deficit problem, we have a long-term deficit problem.... We have a short-term jobs crisis."

The economic outlook:

"You have got an economy that needs priming, and every economist out there will tell you that. And we'd like to see it."

Union members' feelings about Mr. Obama:

"There is frustration with our members and there is anger with our members, and rightfully so, because this economy really hasn't worked for them.… At the same time, our members look at it and say, 'Look at the hand the guy has been dealt.' The guy comes in, he's got an economy in the tank.... He's got two wars to take on.... I think they start to understand that he is trying real hard. He has a determined opposition, and as they ask themselves why isn't action being taken, we [union leaders] are supplying them with the facts.... Barack Obama has been on the side of working people.... I think most of our members say that. Now, does that mean that there isn't still racism out there in some of the actions of a lot of people? I am not going to say that because I think some of it is motivated by race."

His relations with the GOP's Sarah Palin:

"She has a responsibility with the position she is in. She has taken on a position of leadership, and whether it is rightfully given to her or not, she is there. And so she can't use loose language that foments ... anger to hatred or ... action to violence.... If she doesn't change her ways, then 'Palinism' will be equated with other forms of McCarthyism that fomented division among the populace and acts of hatred among the populace."

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