Trumka: Clinton acknowledges that coal remarks hurt her

By Pat Cloonan pcloonan@heraldstandard.com

Published 2:15 AM EST

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton regrets her March remarks about coal, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the Herald-Standard editorial board.

“It hurt her in coal country,” said Trumka, 67, a Nemacolin, Greene County, native and former United Mine Workers president. “It was a mistake and she regrets it.”

At a March town hall held by Cable News Network, Clinton said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

Clinton later said it was a misstatement, and on her website a fact sheet details a $30 billion plan that “will not allow coal communities to be left behind — or left out of our economic future.”

Trumka said the nation needs an “all of the above strategy” about energy, and said there is still an obligation to burn coal cleanly.

“(Clinton) is the only one with a program for clean coal technology,” Trumka told the board. “(Republican presidential nominee Donald) Trump has tried to tap into that anger (but) the policies don’t match the rhetoric.”

Trumka said Trump’s policies do not match his campaign rhetoric on such areas as trade and jobs. He said Clinton understands the nation’s ongoing transformation, from an agrarian society to an industrial society to high technology.

“Hillary understands the importance of jobs and of pragmatism,” Trumka told the board. “So it isn’t, ‘I have to win and you have to lose.’ Hillary tries to unite us so we can both win.’”

Asked about voters shifting to the Republican Party in a region long considered a Democratic stronghold, Trumka said, “There’s a lot of factors that go into that. For years this area has felt it has been left behind a bit.”

However, while “20 to 25 percent of (union) members vote Republican even when it is not in their best interest,” Trumka insisted, “Donald Trump is five points lower with our members than Mitt Romney was at this point (in the 2012 campaign).”

Trumka never mentioned Katie McGinty, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, but made clear his opposition to incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, calling him a “Wall Street banker” who is “against us” on trade policies and the minimum wage.

That was part of a line of criticism of leaders of the Republican majority in the U.S. House and Senate, saying House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is “totally cold” toward issues that could help workers and recalling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, pledging to do nothing to give President Obama a victory.

He thought the president might have been naïve in his dealings with Congress, saying, “I don’t think he was an effective negotiator,” while Clinton would be “very effective,” citing her efforts while serving in the U.S. Senate from New York.

As for Trump and how he might deal with Democrats, the AFL-CIO president said, “It would be virtually impossible for him to do so because he does not know how to compromise. He doesn’t know or believe that what he does wrong is wrong.”

Trumka called Trump “the world’s greatest hypocrite when it comes to trade,” citing his use of foreign steel in a recent U.S. construction project and of foreign goods to furnish one of his casinos. He also said Trump opposed the government’s bailout of the automobile industry, which the union leader said saved 120,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone.

Trumka hailed the “great work ethic” found in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, as well as ties he still has to the region.

In 1981 he was elected to the board of old UMW District 4 in southwestern Pennsylvania, then began a 13-year tenure as UMW president the following year.

He said his work in the UMW “was my dream job,” but his late father urged him in 1995 to seek the post of secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

In 2009, Trumka was elected to the first of two terms as AFL-CIO president. He expects he will run for a third term next year but does not know if it will be his last.

“I love the people I work for,” Trumka said. “I get to do what is in their best interest.”

He criticized right-to-work laws and said such a law passed in 2012 in Indiana caused a migration of high-paying jobs across the Ohio River to Kentucky.

He also defended efforts to raise the minimum wage, calling it “smart for the economy, people and businesses.” He criticized Toomey on labor law, saying the senator voted six times to deny overtime benefits to 3 million workers.

Turmka supported efforts to organize workers in service industries, citing co-ops established under the “Working America” program. He said one such co-op locally involves adjunct professors at the Community College of Allegheny County who earn $2,500 a class.

He acknowledged opposition within union ranks to political endorsements, saying “many do disagree with us,” but said union funding of campaigns “pale in comparison” to those of businessmen, such as brothers Charles and David Koch, and said “a democracy gets to do what a majority says it does.”

He added, “They have a right to campaign against me, and they do.”

Trumka said he has no interest in running for public office.

“I don’t have the stomach to get on the phone and try to raise money,” he said.

But even when he steps down from the AFL-CIO, Trumka said he intends to keep busy, teaching about the Civil War or collective bargaining.

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