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August 1, 2014

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10 questions with AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, was in Las Vegas this week for a United Union of Roofers conference. The Sun took the opportunity to chat with the labor union president.

During the conversation, he advocated for a universal health care system as a way to “fix” President Barack Obama’s health care law, expressed support for a 2 percent tax that will be on the ballot in Nevada next year, and made it clear he’s no fan of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Here are excerpts from the full conversation:

Las Vegas union officials have been displeased with how Obama’s health care law affects labor unions. What’s your take on the talks with the Obama administration over union health care?

We’ve been working for almost two years to try to fix some of the shortcomings in the (Patient Protection and Affordable Care) Act. The act in and of itself is a good first step. Our goal is to bring quality health care to all Americans. It needs to be fixed.

What’s the next step in health care reform?

Trying to get Medicare for everybody, the Medicare program, have it expanded out so that every American can get health care.

So kind of like a single-payer system?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean every other civilized, industrialized country in the world has health care for all of their citizens except the U.S. We pay twice as much as everybody else and get half of the positive results of other countries. That means we need to fix it, and that’s what I think we’re trying to work on.

What’s the AFL-CIO’s top legislative priority right now?

Immigration reform is one of our top priorities. Jobs, immigration reform, mass incarceration, they all tie together. Inequality, they all tie together, trying to get people back and fix the economy and make it work for everybody rather than just the top 1 percent (of incomes in the United States.) We call it shared prosperity, and our top priority is creating an economy that works for everybody who works for a living.

You told USA Today that “wages are stagnant, hours are down, benefits are down, pensions are being taken away, health care is being lost.” When you talk about shared prosperity, that sounds pretty dismal for the average worker. How do we fix that?

The solution is for us to join together with other progressive groups to create an economic and political climate on the ground where shared prosperity can become the norm.

None of us is big enough alone to be able to create shared prosperity and an economy that works for workers, so we have to come together.

The AFL-CIO has pledged to focus a little bit more on state legislative and gubernatorial races. How does that play out?

The state level, state economies have a great impact on people, so us partnering together at the state level is the way we’ll do things. That’s where those partnerships will actually have the grass-roots effect that they need to have.

Can you give me some examples of the bills (you would push in state legislatures)?

Immigration. Equal rights. Minimum wage. The right to collectively bargain at the state level for public workers and private workers. Changing the labor laws so that workers get a fair chance and they cannot be denied the right to bargain collectively. Those are all examples of the stuff that’s going to be needed.

What’s your opinion of our governor here in Nevada, Brian Sandoval?

The state AFL-CIO and the unions and the affiliates of this state will decide who they’re going to support for that particular office. I would have a tough time imagining them supporting him because he hasn’t done anything for workers. He hasn’t done a lot for the economy along the way.

In recent years, certainly the AFL-CIO, they’ve aligned solidly in the camp with Democrats ...

Well, that’s not true. Show me a Republican who is pro-worker and we’ll support him.

There’s a proposal here in Nevada that is going to be on the ballot in 2014 called the Education Initiative, and it would impose a 2 percent tax on businesses that gross more than $1 million. The money would go to the state piggy bank for schools. What do you think of something like that as a way to inject money into schools?

Is 2 percent worth a better education for your kids? That’s the question. I know how I answer it. Yeah, it’s worth 2 or 3 percent to have a better education system, to help workers, to help kids get a better education. And to make people who are not being taxed pay their fair share? I’m for people paying their fair share. What we do on that specific bill will be decided by the people here.

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