By Kevin Bogardus - 01/14/14 04:21 PM EST
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Tuesday urged President Obama to make infrastructure spending a focus of his State of the Union address.
Trumka, the head of the nation’s largest labor federation, said Washington needs to address the nation’s aging roads and railways to put the United States on more competitive footing with other countries.
Trumka will be pounding away at the message with several speeches over the coming weeks, beginning at the United Nations Investors Summit this Wednesday. The labor chief said the country needs more infrastructure spending, not more union-opposed trade initiatives like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
“Frankly, I hope President Obama borrows a few lines from a speech I'm giving this week,” Trumka said. “Here's what I am saying: America needs a fast-track to success, and I'm not talking about TPP or TPA. What would work best to grow our economy is a comprehensive strategy to invest in infrastructure and energy innovation.”
Trumka added, “And I'm talking measuring our investment in trillions with a T.”
Unions have been long been proponents of more spending on construction and other major public works.
Building trade labor groups have pushed for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to be built, arguing it would create more union jobs. Environmentalists have angered many in labor by opposing the pipeline.
Trumka said Tuesday that the pipeline could be part of an infrastructure-spending package.
“The XL pipeline, there is no environmental reason that it can't be done safely at the same time it is creating jobs, so that would be in the mix,” Trumka said.
The AFL-CIO chief said the federation was still reviewing the omnibus spending bill, saying that the legislation “moves in the right direction” while arguing that more could be done on infrastructure.
Trumka said the United States is falling behind other countries like China, which he traveled to recently.
“Today, the U.S. has not a single mile of high-speed rail while China's high-speed rail system carries as many passengers as the entire domestic U.S. airline system,” Trumka said.
“We are the richest nation on the face of the Earth and there's no rational reason we can't make the same kind of investments, and there's no doubt in my mind that America can do it better.”