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AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka told Jonathan Swan in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that former Presidents Clinton and Obama didn't understand unions' importance — and were disappointments to organized labor because of it.

What they're saying: "Joe Biden has surrounded himself with people that are worker-friendly, so that in the multitude of decisions that are made every day without the president being involved, they're going to think about the impact it has on workers," Trumka said.

  • "That's a significant difference and a beneficial one for workers in this country," Trumka added. "And it's one of our reasons for optimism and hope."
  • Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — the last two Democratic presidents — "didn't understand the importance of labor and the importance of collective bargaining," he said.
  • "Both of them surrounded themselves with Wall Street people. And so all of their advice was coming from a Wall Street lens.”
  • Biden "still identifies as a blue-collar guy. ... He doesn't aspire to be accepted by Wall Street. He is what he is, and that is a genuinely good human being that cares about working people."

Why it matters: Trumka knows many union members feel burned by Obama and Clinton — and the Democratic Party, by extension — because of trade deals and other legislation that overlooked or was antithetical to organized labor.

  • Clinton infuriated organized labor with NAFTA.
  • When Obama took office in 2009, he didn't use his larger Senate majority to pass the labor movement's top legislative priority at the time — the so-called "card check" bill.
  • Then Obama tried to seal the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade deal many labor leaders believed would send American jobs offshore.

The big picture: The labor movement — which has suffered decades of declining power and membership — may never enjoy a more favorable climate in Washington than now.

  • Biden is vowing to be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen," coupled with Democratic control of the House and Senate.
  • But in a 50-50 Senate in which Democrats need Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties, it's hard to imagine they can find the 10 Republicans that are needed to overcome a filibuster and support labor's top legislative priority — the PRO Act.

What's next: Asked if he'll urge Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to end the legislative filibuster so Democrats can pass new labor laws with a simple majority, Trumka made a case for why the filibuster was undemocratic — but then demurred.

  • "I don't have the luxury of giving you that answer yet because my affiliates and I will debate that and come to an answer. I think I know where it'll go."

Go deeper

Biden's economic power players

Graphic: Danielle Alberti, Sarah Grillo/Axios

Here are some of the players in the administration who have President Biden's ear on the economy and will help shape Biden-era policy.

Why it matters: The latest jobs report cements the gravity of the crisis Biden's economic team has to tackle as it works on the most immediate challenge: pushing a massive $1.9 trillion rescue plan through Congress.

Inheriting inequality

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve, Peter G. Peterson Foundation; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New York AG alleges "significant evidence" of Trump Organization fraud

Combination images of former President Trump and New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Scott Heins/Getty Images

New York's attorney general filed a motion Tuesday seeking to compel former President Trump and his two elder children to appear for sworn testimony in her office's civil investigation into the Trump Organization's financial dealings.

Why it matters: Attorney General Letitia James revealed new details in the court filing and a statement on her office's investigation into the Trump Organization's business practices, including a preliminary finding alleging the company used "fraudulent and misleading asset valuations to obtain economic benefits."