Latin Post presents "Turnout," a series that features leading politicians, government leaders and advocacy groups discussing and debating the most important issues facing the Latino voting bloc.

Listen to the Full "Turnout" Podcast with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:


The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly known as the AFL-CIO, has had Richard Trumka as its president since 2009, and he has helped engage the dialogue about unions, immigrants’ contribution and rights, and his disgust at the "racist" rhetoric made in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The AFL-CIO, a federation of unions comprising of 57 unions and 13.5 million members, has played a vital role in workers' rights, including Latino and immigrant workers.

"Our job is to become the voice of working people," said Trumka. "To help the labor movement create a better environment -- a better economic environment -- so that all workers get a better shot at the middle class and a good life."

In describing the impact of unions, Trumka said one could look at it through various ways. According to Trumka, the labor movement has been at the vanguard to improve civil, voting and workers' rights. He said the movement has also been at the forefront in more modern and ongoing issues such as immigration reform and pathway to citizenship and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"And we're also at the forefront in trying to raise wages for all Americans, whether they're in an union or not in an union, and when we say 'raising wages,' it's not just the wages themselves, it's working conditions, it's health and safety, it's scheduling, it's getting equal pay for women, it's correcting a broken immigration system that exploits people, it's about getting rid of a system that excludes a third of the black population because of their status of where they were before and can't get back into the job market," said Trumka. "We give voice to the needs and aspirations of working people, whether they're in an union or not."

Trumka said the current 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should have full rights on and off the job. He explained undocumented immigrants have encountered the "dirtiest and dangerous" jobs yet they face threats if they speak about pay.

Based on a report by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), titled "Latino Workers and Unions: A Strategic Partnership for America's Progress," Latino workers need the protections and benefits provided by unions, since the same population faces the highest occupational fatality rate, wage theft, and low health and pension coverage levels.

"When we give full rights to undocumented workers in this country and we fix the broken immigration system, every worker, regardless if whether you came on the Mayflower or you came two weeks ago, is going to benefit because it's going to create a different type of society," said Trumka, noting that 1-in-4 Latino families live in poverty, but if they obtain a voice in their job, if they get a union, they may make "significantly" more money, benefits, healthcare and retirement benefits in addition to voter turnout.

The LCLAA report, citing 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, stated Latino union members earned nearly $43,576 a year, while a non-union Latino earned $30,992 a year. Among Latina union workers, she reportedly earned approximately $38,428 per year, more than $11,000 compared to non-union Latinas.

While immigration reform is among the top issues of the 2016 presidential election, and prior to his presidential campaign suspension, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has strongly campaigned on curbing unions, as he did in his state. Trumka said brothers Charles and David Koch have funded Walker with millions of dollars to damage unions. The AFL-CIO president said people such as the Koch brothers and Walker want to eliminate unions because it would give corporations an "unfettered" playing field.

"If you believe that corporations don't have enough power, you would probably be on that side, but the vast majority of Americans believe corporate America has too much power and unions are the only thing that can act as a balance to that power so that workers get a fair share, so that our communities get a fair share, so that our schools get a fair share, so that every worker out there gets an equal opportunity to climb up the ladder into the middle class and beyond," Trumka said.

Walker suspended his presidential campaign on Monday afternoon, to which Trumka later issued a statement, "Scott Walker is still a disgrace, just no longer national. "

Trumka has been outspoken about the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric made during the presidential campaign, which included candidates referring to Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and "criminals," calls for mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., ceasing the birthright citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants and the using the term "anchor babies."

"I'm disgusted by it," said Trumka about the rhetoric. "I think it's un-American, and I think it's racist ... whenever one of the major parties allows that kind of debate to occur, it gives credibility to it and it deserves no credibility."

Trumka said the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino comments have been intentional and aimed to demean and divide workers, specifically white workers from people of color.

"Making any group of workers as scapegoats isn't the answer to America's problems," he added.

Trumka acknowledged his family history -- being the son of immigrant parents. He shared that the same anti-immigrant comments were also made against his parents and grandparents, trying to divide and separate them, but said that the labor movement has been able to unite people from all different cultures and backgrounds because they seek common goals including a better life for their children and an economy that works for everybody.

Trumka said America deserves better than to hear one of the major political parties' candidates outdo each other to demean a group of workers who have "mightily" contributed in the U.S. and made the country greater than before.

"So long as I have any ability, I will fight to stop that kind of racist, un-American activity," said Trumka.

The AFL-CIO president is excited about Pope Francis' first trip to the U.S. Trumka said the pope brings a message of inclusion and solidarity, and his visit will make a "profound" difference.

"I actually think, and I pray, that it's going to have a dampening effect on the harshness and the discriminatory [and] demeaning rhetoric that we're hearing by some of these political candidates," said Trumka.

Diversity is prominent within AFL-CIO. According to Trumka, 75 percent to 80 percent of its departments' heads are women or people of color. He noted AFL-CIO's executive vice president, Tefere Gebre, who was born in Ethiopia and emigrated to the U.S. during his teen years. Trumka said there is not a single department within the organization that doesn't have diversity. From maintenance to the legal staff, Trumka said he's proud of the organization's diversity, considering it as one of its strengths.


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