AFL-CIO president trumpets Warren, calls for Dems to pick sides on labor issues in 2015

Story highlights

  • Richard Trumka heralds Sen. Elizabeth Warren as an "inspiration" who embodies labor's "highest ideals" on Wednesday
  • Trumka to Warren: "You have always been and will always be a remarkable champion of working people"
  • Trumka urged Democrats to take sides on labor ahead of the 2016 presidential election

Washington (CNN)Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, glowingly praised Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday, and urged Democratic politicians to pick sides on labor in his closing remarks at a labor summit on raising wages.

Warren, who also spoke at the summit, is seen by many liberals as the best spokeswoman for their causes. Although the Massachusetts senator has said she is not running for president in 2016, Warren has been followed by presidential speculation for months as liberal groups have started movements to urge Warren to run in 2016.
Trumka started his remarks by calling Warren an "inspiration" who embodies labor's "highest ideals."
    "Her vision of a Raising Wages America embodies our highest ideals," Trumka said. "Senator Warren is that rare political leader: she shares out values, she really connects with us, she is a genius when it comes to policy, and she is tough as nails when it comes to politics."
    He continued: "Senator Warren, thank you. You have always been and will always be a remarkable, remarkable champion of working people."
    Despite labor's power within the Democratic Party, Trumka has shied away from weighing in on 2016 politics. His remarks about Warren, however, are glowing, especially compared to what the labor leader said about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner and former secretary of state, in August 2014.
    "I think that Hillary did an excellent job as secretary of state. I think she is very, very qualified to be president," Trumka said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington. "Would I say she is the favorite now? Yes. But I think anytime anybody believes there is going to be a coronation, that is dangerous for the candidate."
    Last year, the AFL-CIO came to an agreement with all its members that, according to Trumka, "no one will endorse [in 2016] until we say all of us are going to endorse." And before doing that, the labor group plans to question all presidential candidates.
    But on Wednesday, Trumka urged Democrats to take sides on labor ahead of the 2016 presidential election and said that if the party wants labor there on Election Day, they need to get behind the group's priorities.
    "We know that no matter what happens in the 2014 mid-term elections, 2015 would be a pivotal year," the labor leader said. "It would be the year that politicians decided to stand up strong, or to retreat, afraid of responsibility. To be very, very clear about what we need, or to be murky, saying a little of this, a little of that, and a lot of 'maybe, kind of, sort of.' To build our nation's future, or to protect their own backside with caution and corporate cash."
    The AFL-CIO will also step up their 2016 activity this year by taking their Raising Wages summit message to the first four presidential primary states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
    Though Trumka did not mention Clinton by name, liberal activists could see 2016 implication in the labor leader's remarks.
    "Trumka's comments appear to reflect the yearning of so many Americans, who long not just for more leaders like Elizabeth Warren specifically but in general, leaders who stand up for working people and not just for powerful monied interests," said Sally Kohn, a liberal activist and CNN contributor. "Is Trumka implicitly endorsing Warren? I don't know, but what I think he is explicitly endorsing is more principled, populist leaders like her — including in the 2016 presidential race."
    Wednesday's meeting is the first AFL-CIO summit on raising wages in the United States. Labor organizations and Democratic politicians used much of 2014 to push raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Republicans thwarted the law in Congress, but voters in reliably red Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota gave labor leaders hope when they voted to approve ballot measures to increase their minimum wages.
    Trumka pressed those priorities on Wednesday, urging the labor leaders assembled to use their "collective voice" to "protect workers' full rights to engage in collective bargaining and hold employers accountable for violations for these rights."