Union Leader Richard Trumka is ‘Annoying,’ Said Hillary Clinton Staffers


Two of Hillary Clinton’s senior staffers declared in September 2015 they were annoyed with union president Richard Trumka’s praise for potential campaign rival, Vice-President Joe Biden, according to an hacked email from the Clinton campaign.

The first Sept. 9 email complaint came from policy advisor Ann O’Leary, following a TV interview of AFL-CIO president Trumka, in which he seemed to favor Biden over Hillary Clinton. Hillary is dubbed “HRC” in the email, and Trumka’s name is misspelled.

This Trumpka [sic] line about Joe Biden really annoys me whenever I hear him say it – that Biden has been fighting for working people his whole life. It implies that HRC has not. Is there anything we can do to get him to add something nice about HRC? If he says it and then says HRC has too – or gives an example of her fighting for the first responders after 9/11 or something, I think it will help the perception that there is a labor record contrast between the two.

Three hours later, O’Leary got a reply from Nikki Budzinski, the labor outreach director at the Clinton campaign.

I agree. He is annoying. I’d like to just call the AFLCIO and talk to Mike Podhorzer about this. Let me know if anyone disagrees.

Podhorzer is the political director at the AFL-CIO, but is also a major player in various progressive research groups.

These complaints about Trumka came before Biden said he would not compete for the nomination against Clinton.

Eventually, the AFl-CIO tepidly endorsed Clinton in June 2016, long after she had locked up the Democratic Party’s primary race with her primary win in California — but also after the Democratic grassroots had forced Clinton to conditionally back away from the wage-cutting Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The AFL-CIO’s June 16 announcement said:

“Hillary Clinton is a proven leader who shares our values,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Throughout the campaign, she has demonstrated a strong commitment to the issues that matter to working people, and our members have taken notice. The activism of working people has already been a major force in this election and is now poised to elect Hillary Clinton and move America forward.”

The gap between Clinton’s team and the AFL-CIO does show the widening gap between the party’s blue-collar supporters and the dominant faction of university-education progressives. The upper-income tend to favor increased immigration of wage-cutting workers and a greater focus on social issues, such as greater status for upper-income feminists or sexual minorities.

That political gap is open in the national election, where Donald Trump is trying to win support from blue-collar voters and union members with a pro-American pitch that would curb free-trade and reduce large-scale, wage-cutting immigration

In January 2016, the president of the SEIU union admitted that many members of her huge union would support Trump.

“I am deeply concerned about what is stirring, even in our membership… where our members are responding to Trump’s message,” said Mary Kay Henry, the international president of the Service Employees International Union. “Sixty-four percent of our public members identify as conservative, and are much more interested in the Republican debate than the Democratic debate at the moment,” she told David Axelrod, the chief campaign strategist for President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

Before the “annoying” email, the AFL-CIO was pushing Clinton’s upper-income progressive faction to pay more attention to union members’ economic and security priorities. An April 15 statement by the union said:

We call on all of America’s working men and women—Democrat and Republican, white collar, blue collar and no collar—to join us in supporting the candidate who can and will deliver on the American Promise. That is the standard. We will not settle for less … That also means no candidate can be all things to all people and still meet this standard. Standing with working people once in a while won’t work. Candidates can’t hedge bets any longer …

The growing political power of the wealthiest among us has rewritten our labor laws, our trade laws, our tax laws, our monetary policies, our fiscal policies, our financial regulations …We want earned sick leave. We want full employment and fair overtime rules. We want to tax Wall Street to pay for massive investments in infrastructure and education, so Wall Street serves Main street, not the other way around … we want to be able to bargain collectively with our employers for good wages and benefits without fear of retaliation.

The pressure worked, at  least partly. Clinton has edged away from her support for TPP, and in November 2015, two months after the “annoying” email, Clinton’s team announced a proposal to spend $30 billion in aid on coal-mining communities that are being shut down by the party’s environmentalist wing. Another hacked email to John Podesta described Trumka’s thankful reaction for the plan: 

President Trumka’s office just called me to see if you could talk. When you weren’t around to jump on the phone he got on the line and delivered this message to me to give to you: He would like to give a huge thank you to YOU and HRC for the $30 billion dollar aid plan to ensure that coal miners and their families get the benefits they’ve earned and respect they deserve. He said it shows a great sensitivity for these issues that no other politician in this country is showing right now.

Trumka began his union career in the coal-mining union.