By Kevin Bogardus - 10/05/11 12:15 AM EDT
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka implored liberal activists Thursday to get behind President Obama’s jobs bill.
Speaking at the Take Back the American Dream conference, the head of the nation’s largest labor federation said activists should support the White House’s $447 billion proposal, which includes funding to repair infrastructure, modernize school buildings and provide aid to local and state governments. Trumka said the legislation would help build a nationwide movement on jobs.
The labor leader said that in the past, he has not held back from criticizing the president when he felt Obama was heading down the wrong path.
“See, like many of you in this room, I’ve been one of the first to call out President Obama when I thought it was needed. But when he’s doing the right thing, when he’s doing the courageous thing, it’s time for us to have his back and push that bill through,” Trumka said to applause.
Trumka’s support comes at a crucial time in Obama’s presidency. Obama will need the help of unions to persuade working-class voters he deserves a second term, and labor’s extensive get-out-the-vote operations could be a difference-maker in battleground states.
The support from the labor leader represents a shift from comments he made in August, when he questioned Obama’s leadership and said his administration had become distracted from fixing the economy by the debt-ceiling debate.
Though House Republicans have declared the jobs package dead on arrival, Obama’s proposal seems to have helped patch up relations with labor. Nevertheless, unions are not fully on board with the White House’s legislative agenda this year.
Unions are lobbying hard against three pending trade deals: with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The agreements are expected to receive votes in Congress soon and are supported by the White House.
The AFL-CIO ran ads in Beltway newspapers Tuesday opposing the trade deals. AFL-CIO affiliate union leaders also hosted a Capitol Hill lobby day where workers met with lawmakers to urge them to vote against the agreements. And the labor federation organized a national call-in day to urge lawmakers to vote against the trade deals.
In his speech before liberal activists, Trumka credited the “Tea Party-inspired right wing” for the trade deals, not the president.
“The next stop for their agenda here in Washington is, quite frankly, three lousy trade deals that are coming up right now,” Trumka said.
Trumka blasted the trade agreements, which were submitted to Congress this week by the Obama administration. Urging activists to call their lawmakers, he said that the trade deals will lead to U.S. jobs losses and reward countries that have poor records regarding labor rights.
“You see, if you agree that the answer is no, then you need to join me, brothers and sisters, in calling Congress to let them know,” Trumka said. “We need to get hundreds of calls in to Congress today.”
The conference was hosted by the liberal group the Campaign for America’s Future.