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Former AFL-CIO official says labor group excluded from White House meetings

082217 SHiggins Thea Lee pic
"I can only assume that someone in the White House preferred not to have labor's voice at the table after all," Thea Lee wrote in Cosmopolitan. (Wikipedia Commons)

Thea Lee, a former top official with the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, said in an op-ed that she and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were deliberately excluded from meetings involving the White House manufacturing council that she and Trumka served on.

The assertion appears to contradict Trumka's comments last week, when he said that the council never formally met.

Lee and Trumka quit the council last week following the controversy over President Trump's remarks regarding the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Several of the council's other members also dropped out, prompting Trump to dissolve the advisory group.

In an op-ed published Monday in Cosmopolitan, Lee, formerly deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO and now a lawyer who consults with it, said she and Trumka were frozen out by the White House. "We never attended a single formal meeting of the council. I read press reports about the CEO members of the council meeting at the White House with the president and various Cabinet members, but we weren't included. I don't know who made the decision not to invite us, but I can only assume that someone in the White House preferred not to have labor's voice at the table after all."

That appears to be at odds with what Trumka said last week. In a New York Times op-ed, he wrote, "We were never called to a single official meeting." He did say in the same column that he met with Trump at the White House. "During my January meeting with President Trump, we identified a few important areas where compromise seemed possible. On manufacturing, infrastructure and especially trade, we were generally in agreement."

Since the controversy over Trump's remarks, both Lee and Trumka, who usually back Democrats and liberal causes, have been at pains to explain why they accepted invitations by Trump to serve on the council. Both have argued they felt obligated to do it if they were to have any influence at all over the administration's policies.

"While I've had serious disagreements with both Democratic and Republican administrations about the content and enforcement of trade agreements, for example, these were substantive policy differences, not matters of principle," Lee wrote. "So President Trumka and I carefully considered the invitation to serve on President Trump's council and concluded that we could best serve our members by providing a strong and principled voice for working families, as we had under previous administrations. We took the heat from some people who thought that any engagement with this administration was problematic."

Lee added that she joined the council at the insistence of the union rank and file. "After the election, the AFL-CIO did a poll of working families. Many people, including those who did not vote for President Trump, asked us to work with this president and continue to be a voice for working people," she wrote.