UPDATE: 6 p.m. ― The AFL-CIO resigned from President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council Tuesday evening. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pointed directly to remarks Trump had made that afternoon in which he defended people who attended a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“We cannot sit on a council for a President who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism,” Trumka said. “President Trump’s remarks today repudiate his forced remarks yesterday about the KKK and neo-Nazis. We must resign on behalf of America’s working people, who reject all notions of legitimacy of these bigoted groups.”
Four members of President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council have stepped down following his ambiguous initial response to a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. Yet one of Trump’s loudest critics from the 2016 campaign is staying put, at least for now.
The AFL-CIO said Monday that it was “assessing its role” on the council, and a spokesman for Richard Trumka, head of the labor federation, said the following day that that position had not changed. The CEOs of Merck, Under Armour and Intel had left the council as of Tuesday afternoon, as had the head of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a nonprofit with ties to the Steelworkers Union.
The departures have put Trumka and the AFL-CIO in a tough spot. Leaving the council would no doubt invite the fury of Trump, and potentially damage the inroads the organization has made with the administration on manufacturing and infrastructure. But remaining on the council would lead many allies and union members to wonder why a handful of CEOs took a stronger stand against Trump than organized labor’s premiere federation did.
The AFL-CIO is a coalition of 55 member unions across industries. HuffPost reached out to more than a dozen of them on Tuesday to see what they thought about the federation being a member of Trump’s manufacturing council. Most unions did not respond to the queries, and others signaled the delicate politics at work by saying they didn’t have a definitive position on the matter yet.
The hospitality union Unite Here was one of the few to directly address the AFL-CIO’s membership on the council, but it stopped short of calling for an exit. “We don’t know what the outcome of the internal decision within the AFL-CIO will be, but regardless of that decision our union will continue fighting for social and economic justice for immigrant workers,” a spokeswoman said.
Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, couldn’t be reached on Tuesday, but a spokesman noted that she had already applauded those who had left the council:
Member unions could put pressure on the AFL-CIO, but it is ultimately up to Trumka to decide whether to stay on the council. He noted Monday in his statement that the manufacturing council “has yet to hold any real meeting,” but that didn’t stop Twitter users from hammering him for not bailing on it.
The internal politics at play are also tricky. Unions within the AFL-CIO don’t walk in lockstep, and Trump’s presidency has already exposed rifts within the federation. Some unions would have more to lose than others if the federation issued a public rebuke of the president. Public-sector unions, for example, are basically already at war with the administration and routinely criticize Trump in public. But the building trade unions are still trying to work with him on some kind of infrastructure package.
Several of those unions are no doubt concerned about the damage that could result from the AFL-CIO protesting the president. Trump has already torn into the members who resigned from the manufacturing council, calling them “grandstanders” who are easily replaced. He singled out Merck CEO Ken Frazier, the first to leave, for a personal drubbing.
Still, the pressure will only mount on Trumka if more executives leave the council and condemn the president in the process. And at a certain point, a resignation starts to look less like a principled stand and more like a capitulation to public pressure ― particularly for a guy who, not even a year ago, called Trump “an anti-American bigot.”