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AFL-CIO president says he told Trump 'workers have to have a say' in how economy is restarted

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Key Points
  • AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka said he told President Donald Trump this week that American workers must have input into how the U.S. economy restarts from the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • "Workers have to have a say in how we go back at every level," Trumka said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
  • Trumka said the country needs a federal standard to ensure workplaces have proper safety protocols in place. 
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AFL-CIO president says he told Trump 'workers have to have a say' in how economy is restarted

The head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, said Friday he told President Donald Trump this week that American workers must have input into how the U.S. economy restarts from the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Workers have to have a say in how we go back at every level, whether it is in the industrial level, the workplace level," and all levels of government, Trumka said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

Trumka is a member of the White House's Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups, which were announced Tuesday as part of the president's efforts to "open" back up parts of the U.S. economy. 

Trump had calls with the various business leaders earlier this week and on Thursday released broad new federal guidelines for easing up on social distancing measures imposed to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The plan does not include any specific dates but includes "phases" that can guide decisions by individual state leaders. 

The new White House guidelines follow signs that daily increases in new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. may be slowing.

Trumka, who was first elected to lead the AFL-CIO in 2009, said the safety of workers needs to be central in any plan to reboot portions of the economy. 

In particular, the labor leader said there should be an infectious disease workplace standard put in place at the federal level so "workers have a way to know they can be protected." 

Trumka said employers would craft a plan "specific to their location" that would detail how they will train workers in new safety protocols, for example. He said he hopes the standard would be mandated in the next coronavirus relief package.

President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka speaks about his role in securing labor protections in the USMCA trade agreement during an interview with Reuters in Washington, December 19, 2019.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

"That standard is absolutely essential," argued Trumka. He added that other business leaders on the call with Trump said they needed more direction on how to bring workers back. 

Trump "listened intently to the leaders who spoke about their companies, industries and groups," an administration official who declined to be named told CNBC. "It seemed like everyone on the call was on the same page with respect to getting America back to work in a safe and efficient manner."

Trumka also stressed that the U.S. needs a "massive" increase in personal protective equipment — and in rapid testing for Covid-19 — in order to safely restart the economy. 

Trumka said he worries about a "second surge" of Covid-19 cases if workers return to the job without these measures. 

"We can't even take care of the people's health and safety that are working. We have more people getting infected in all the different industries, so we have to focus on that," Trumka said. 

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AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka on reopening US economy