WASHINGTON — The head of one of the country’s largest and most influential labor unions criticized President Joe Biden Sunday for putting a halt to the Keystone XL Pipeline without laying out a crystal clear way to replace the jobs he claims will be lost as a result of that decision.
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) president Richard Trumka told “Axios on HBO” Sunday that he was unhappy with the president’s decision to cancel the multi-billion dollar oil project, arguing that the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) was “right” to blast the president for killing jobs. The Laborers’ International said Biden’s decision would cost 1,000 existing union jobs and 10,000 construction jobs.
“If you’re looking at a pipeline and you’re saying we’re going to put it down, now what are you going to do to create the same good-paying jobs in that area?”Trumka said during the sit-down interview. According to Axios’ Jonathan Swan, the union boss also ducked a question about Biden’s move to temporarily place a moratorium on gas and oil drilling on federal lands.
The president says he wants to make substantial investments in green energy to replace whatever jobs are displaced.
“President Biden has proposed transformative investments in infrastructure that will not only create millions of good union jobs but also help tackle the climate crisis,” White House spokesman Vedant Patel told Axios.
Trumka suggested he is becoming exasperated with the Democratic Party and Biden’s promises to replace jobs lost due to the party’s desire to switch from fossil fuels to green energy.
“You know, when they laid off at the mines back in Pennsylvania, they told us they were going to train us to be computer programmers,” he said.
Trumka added: “And I said, ‘Where are the computer programmer jobs at?’ ‘Uh, they’re in, uh, Oklahoma and they’re in Vegas and they’re here.’ And I said, ‘So, in other words, what we’re going to be is unemployed miners and unemployed computer programmers as well.'”
The AFL-CIO head also touched on a growing political hot potato: the divide between urban American and rural America.
Americans “love where they live and they love the people in that area,” Trumka said, referring to the argument that displaced workers should retrain and pick up and go elsewhere for a new career. “And to them, that’s home. And that’s their culture.”
“That culture is very, very important to the people who live there,” he added, noting that people in Washington, D.C. are particularly deaf to those concerns.
According to the Keystone XL website, the project would have sustained nearly 11,000 U.S. jobs in 2021 and generated $1.6 billion in gross wages. Many of those jobs lost are not directly associated with the pipeline’s construction but rather service-sector jobs tied to indirectly to the project.
Former President Barack Obama initially stopped the pipeline back in 2016 before his successor — former President Donald Trump — brought it back through an executive order. Biden’s decision effectively snuffs out the multi-billion oil project indefinitely.
The share of American workers in labor unions has fallen substantially over the past several decades, hitting a new low in low in 2019 — the number fell by 170,000 in a year when employers added more than 2.1 million jobs. That effectively reduces the share of the workforce in labor unions to 10.3 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported last year, citing data from the Labor Department.
According to the data, there were 14.6 million union members in 2019 out of 141.7 million total U.S. workers.
The 1960s represented a high-water mark for union membership. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. workers were in unions, according to unionstats.com, a database maintained by Georgia State University Professor Barry Hirsch.
Labor unions and the environmentalist wing of the Democratic Party have knocked heads in recent years.
The presidents of seven of the country’s largest construction unions threatened to boycott a get-out-the-vote effort called For Our Future PAC during the 2016 election.
For Our Future PAC has received heavy funding over the years from billionaire Tom Steyer, a climate activist and major Democratic donor who advocates for the end of all fossil fuels and the cancelation of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Two massive teachers’ unions — the American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees — were part of the alliance alongside Steyer.
“It saddens us that the very labor movement we have fought for and supported for over a century seems to have lost sight of its core mission and has moved away from us and our membership in the interest of headline-grabbing political expediency,” the presidents of several labor groups wrote to Trumka in 2016.
The president of LIUNA, Terry O’Sullivan, wrote a similar letter at the time, arguing that the partnership between Steyer and the teachers’ unions was “politically bankrupt betrayal” of union members. “We object to the political agenda of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. being sold to a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash,” he wrote at the time.