AFL-CIO’s Trumka changes tone, says President Obama ‘starting to lead’

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised President Obama on Friday for focusing on jobs rather than the national deficit.

The complimentary words for Obama are a shift in recent tone from the union chief, who last month blasted the White House for becoming distracted by the politics surrounding the summer debt-ceiling debate. Since then, Obama has proposed the American Jobs Act — a $447 billion proposal that includes funding for state and local government aid, rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure and school modernization.

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The nation’s labor federation has lent its support to the legislation. Trumka called the bill “an important step, but it’s not the last step.”

“I think he stands in a lot better position than he did three weeks ago,” Trumka said of Obama during a question-and-answer session following a speech he gave at the Brookings Institution.

In his speech, Trumka said America is facing a jobs crisis, not a debt crisis, and that politicians need to focus on keeping people working instead of cutting government programs. Trumka said the president made a mistake by focusing so much on reducing the national deficit.

“Quite frankly, I think he made a tactical or a strategic mistake when he started talking about debt reduction and got into the morass and made that seem like it was the number one issue,” Trumka said.

The labor leader said Obama now is showing that he is a strong leader by challenging Congress repeatedly to pass his jobs bill.

“I think he’s now fighting for that. I think going out to city after city, laying down the gauntlet, saying, ‘We need jobs. Jobs is the most important crisis right now, and if you don’t pass them, shame on you, Senate, shame on you, House, for not doing that,’” Trumka said. “I think he’s starting to lead and I think because of that, he’s in better position with our members.”