WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump brushed off the AFL-CIO's endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Thursday, saying he will win the union vote in November.
While top labor leaders have lined up behind Clinton, many of them have acknowledged that Trump's positions on some core labor issues, plus his blunt, populist approach to campaigning, could make him an attractive option for some rank-and-file union members.
"Sadly with this endorsement of Hillary Clinton -- who is totally owned by Wall Street -- the leadership of the AFL-CIO has made clear that it no longer represents American workers. Instead they have become part of the rigged system in Washington, D.C. that benefits only the insiders," Trump said. "I believe their members will be voting for me in much larger numbers than for her."
The Wall Street Journal reports the AFL-CIO began a membership outreach and education program in early June to push back on Trump's appeal to working class white voters. The labor group, which spends heavily to support Democratic candidates, sent flyers to members in several battleground states, highlighting Trump's opposition to raising the federal minimum wage and past statements that workers in America make too much money.
But one issue where Trump can claim undeniable inroads with labor union members is his staunch opposition to trade agreements that he says have hurt American workers. Trump has repeatedly said that for trade agreements to be free, they must also be fair. Clinton's record on the issue is a decidedly mixed bag.
Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement when her husband was president, but voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a senator. As secretary of state, she supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade proposal between the United States and several Asian nations, but faced stiff criticism for it as a presidential candidate and ultimately said she does not support the final version of the accord.
Clinton's record on free trade has already exposed a rift in her relations with organized labor. That issue, along with his populist stance on the minimum wage and other issues of income inequality, led some of the nation's more liberal-leaning unions to back Clinton's primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Labor leaders loyal to Sanders said they are worried their members could defect to Trump now that Clinton is the Democrats' presumptive nominee.
"There's an element in that right-wing populism that is appealing to some of our members, there's no question about that," Robert Master, the eastern region political director for the Communications Workers of America, told the Wall Street Journal.
The CWA endorsed Sanders over Clinton in the primary and has not said whether it will change its endorsement to Clinton for the general election.