Labor leaders reacted to President Trump's State of the Union address by arguing that the president's claim that jobs are "roaring back" was too optimistic and the situation is still bad for too many workers.
They offered qualified praise for Trump's position on trade issues, though, saying the president was looking in the right direction.
"Last night, President Trump painted an everything-being-great picture of America that while optimistic, is not the reality for most working families. That may be how his friends are living, but the working men and women we represent aren’t seeing the same America, and his policies are making it worse," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement Wednesday.
Trumka said Trump "rightly acknowledged problems in trade" deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement but "offered no solutions to make NAFTA benefit working people." He said Trump's promise to rebuild the nation's infrastructure was contradicted by his immigration policy. "He actually wants to spend more on a border wall than investing in all of America’s infrastructure for an entire year."
Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, was more positive, saying that while Trump has yet to deliver on many promises, his proposals for NAFTA are correct. "On trade, the president outlined an action plan that, if fully implemented, could begin to reform the failed policies of the past. That is promising, but in many areas we are still waiting for results. ... NAFTA is being renegotiated, but we wait to see whether an updated agreement will rebalance the benefits so that working Americans gain greater job security and better wages," Gerard said.
Trump said in his speech that corporations are expanding in the U.S. because his policies had created "a new tide of new optimism that was sweeping the country." He touted a national unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, a 45-year low, and pointed to reports that wages are rising, too.
"Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States, something we haven't seen for decades. ... This is all news Americans are unaccustomed to hearing — for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are roaring back, they are coming back. They want to be where the action is. They want to be in the United States of America," Trump said.
Labor leaders representing mostly public-sector workers were harsher in their assessments. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that the positive notes in Trump's speech were drowned by his policy proposals. "For anyone who believes that America is a nation of immigrants, that Dreamers should have a home in this country, that workers’ wages should rise, that the rich should not be the biggest winners in the economy, that college and healthcare should be affordable, and that kids should have a ladder of opportunity, you didn’t get that tonight," she said.