Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade : It's All Politics Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said presidential candidates can't "hedge their bets" when it comes to trade. But that's exactly what Hillary Clinton has done so far.
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Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade

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Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade

Union Head Presses Candidates, Clinton On Trade

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The nation's most powerful labor leader has delivered what could be called a warning and a wish list. The head of the AFL-CIO says it will only back presidential candidates committed to raising workers' wages and addressing income inequality - that would include opposition to big trade agreements, a message that seems to be aimed directly at Hillary Clinton. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Standing in front of a wall-size mosaic depicting American work life throughout history, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today was focused on the future and what he sees as the issue in the 2016 election.

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RICHARD TRUMKA: We have an economy where GDP is up and the stock market is up but wages remain flat. And this has happened again and again since the 1970s.

GONYEA: He noted that CEO pay has skyrocketed over the last four decades while the wages of average Americans have gone the other way.

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TRUMKA: Now, that's a violation of the American dream.

GONYEA: Trumka did point to some union successes from last November. Yes, it was a horrible midterm election for so many labor-backed Democrats, but ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage won in five states. Then, Trumka said this - a message seemingly targeted at Democrats, especially the overwhelming frontrunner for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, though he didn't mention her by name.

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TRUMKA: Candidates can't hedge their bets any longer and expect workers to rush to the polls in excitement, to run out and door knock and phone bank and leaflet, only to have their candidate of choice turn a back towards the policies.

GONYEA: That kind of grassroots effort he describes is what gives labor clout in elections, even after decades of declining membership. The big current issue is President Obama's push for authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trumka opposes it and says it will hurt American workers. Obama disagrees. And so far, the only Democrat in the race, Hillary Clinton, is hedging her bets. At one point she called this deal, quote, "the gold standard." Now she won't say exactly where she stands. After his speech, Trumka talked very briefly with a handful of reporters. He was asked, is she doing what he just warned against?

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TRUMKA: No candidate will be able to dodge any issue. It's 18 months. It's a long campaign. I'm sure you'll get to ask her that question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you asked her?

TRUMKA: I'm sure you will, you will, you will. All of us will.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you, though?

TRUMKA: All of us will get a chance to ask her that question.

GONYEA: The big question down the road for labor will be not just her answer, but whether unions do ultimately again have to get behind a candidate who's good enough on their issues. That's why pressure is being applied now. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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