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Unions in this country face big challenges. There's a tougher environment for organizing and a White House that has been anything but labor-friendly so far. That's despite promises to bring back manufacturing jobs. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Ask AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka about the climate for unions on this Labor Day weekend, and he starts with something positive - a new Gallup poll showing public support for unions at its highest point since 2003.
RICHARD TRUMKA: There's much more excitement about unions. Over 61 percent of the people in the country support unions.
GONYEA: Less than a decade ago, fewer than half of Americans voiced such support. Trumka says the improvement is because people recognize that unions are fighting for workers in an economy where most of the rules are controlled by corporate interests.
Last year's presidential election was a bad one for the labor movement. Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the votes of union households but by a far smaller margin than President Obama did four years earlier. That shift had an impact in battleground states. Trump won over some of those voters with promises to bring back manufacturing jobs and his constant criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.
TRUMKA: His promises in the campaign haven't matched up with what he's done.
GONYEA: Richard Trumka says instead there's been an assault on regulations that protect workers in so many ways.
TRUMKA: Health and Safety regulations like protecting us from beryllium and silica, overtime regulations that would've brought overtime to 4 or 5 million people, consumer protection regulations, regulations on Wall Street - he's done away with a number of those things.
GONYEA: The challenge labor faces now is making the case against Trump with the membership. The AFL-CIO president says the only way to do it is with the facts.
David Cohen is a political scientist at the University of Akron. He had a close-up view of Trump's success in the northeast section of Ohio where closed steel mills are a reminder of the decline in manufacturing jobs.
DAVID COHEN: A lot of these union people that went over to vote for Trump - it's really unclear whether these are loyal Trump voters or whether these are one-time Trump voters who decided to give somebody else a chance.
GONYEA: Many of those voters were simply unhappy with Hillary Clinton. Cohen says Democrats need candidates who can win those voters back at all levels. Even so, he says there are obstacles the labor movement faces, including that a majority of states now also have right-to-work laws, allowing workers to opt out of joining the union and paying regular dues in a union-represented workplace.
COHEN: That is a problem because in order for unions to be strong across the country or within the various states, they need numbers. They need as many people in their ranks as possible.
GONYEA: The AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka acknowledges the challenge but says President Trump's own actions, from calls for deep tax cuts for big corporations to the attacks on the Affordable Care Act to his response to the recent white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville, all help make the case. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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