Broken Promises, a Botched Response and a Better Way Forward

Four years ago, enough union members in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and my home state of Pennsylvania defected from the Democratic Party to tip the election to Donald Trump. While neither the AFL-CIO nor I supported him, I understood why many union members did. Trump branded himself as an outsider. He did not sound like a politician. While crass and offensive, he spoke to the desire of working people for a louder voice.

As someone who represents 12.5 million workers and 56 unions, I had a responsibility to work with the new president. Before the inauguration, he invited me to Trump Tower. We spoke about the areas where we could find common ground and how we could bring his pro-worker campaign promises to fruition. Soon after, I accepted an invitation to sit on his manufacturing council.

Working people have been promised the moon by presidents of both parties. And while few have delivered, I genuinely hoped, for the sake of the hardworking families who keep America running, that Trump would. But with each passing day, it became clear that President Trump was never the friend of working people he claimed to be. In fact, he quickly became the labor movement’s ultimate foe.

My grandchildren will read textbooks about Trump’s failure to contain the coronavirus and keep working people—and all Americans—safe. That’s how historically devastating his leadership has been.

Nine months into this pandemic, Trump is still asking us to believe the same fiction he’s been spreading from the start: “We’re rounding the corner,” he says.

But working people know better. Across America, the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise. Trump did not create the coronavirus, of course, but he is responsible for downplaying the seriousness of the threat, refusing to protect workers and accelerating the virus’ spread. His reckless choices are why front-line workers continue to risk their health and life in workplaces like grocery stores, firehouses and hospitals.

Even before this pandemic, President Trump’s disregard for workplace health and safety was dangerous, delinquent and deadly. He never had a full-time director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and there are fewer OSHA inspectors today than at any point since it was founded. And the president weakened Mine Safety and Health Administration enforcement, forcing miners to work in unnecessarily hazardous conditions.

While Trump’s COVID-19 response will always be remembered as his greatest failure, working people won’t soon forget his broken promises. He talked and talked about a massive infrastructure package, but America’s roads, dams and ports are still crumbling. The president’s tax cuts for the ultra-rich accelerated the outsourcing of good-paying union jobs and worsened inequality. Manufacturing jobs he said were coming back never did.

Trump’s broken promises have been compounded by relentless attacks on workers’ rights. From the Supreme Court to the National Labor Relations Board to the Department of Labor, his appointments have made it their mission to undermine collective bargaining. Not since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers have we seen this level of union-busting from the White House. Every rule, every decision, every move has made it harder to live and work in America.

Working families deserve a leader who will focus on “we, the people,” not just on the person they see in the mirror. Only Vice President Joe Biden can be that president. I’ve known Joe for 40 years. He loves his family, loves working people and loves our country. His “Made in America” plan will revitalize America's manufacturing in a way Trump never could. Biden doesn’t only have the best plan to beat the virus and help workers recover financially—he is the only candidate for president with a plan at all. And with a Biden administration, we’ll finally pass the PRO Act, allowing workers to join a union freely and fairly.

While we must elect Biden, this election is also about our hopes and aspirations. Working people have been knocked down, counted out and told our time is up. But in the face of corporate greed and political sabotage, we’ve not only survived—we’ve risen.

Today, according to a Gallup Poll, 65% of Americans support unions, a nearly 50-year high. Sixty million workers would vote to join a union right now if given the chance—and in a Biden administration, more would get that choice.

Here is the plain truth: For the good of the country we love, working people—whether we voted for him or not—gave this president every last chance to prove himself. He failed. For America to defeat the coronavirus, economic inequality and systemic racism, working people must show Donald Trump the door.

The labor movement is writing a comeback story. We have overcome anti-worker attacks and made it through to the other side. Joe Biden has done the same. Now is the time to join forces on behalf of the country we love and built and start to build it back even better.