Correction appended

Richard Trumka, an executive in the nation’s largest labor union, said the country’s economic infrastructure is failing the working class and is to blame for the growing wealth gap in America during a talk yesterday in the Michigan Union.

Addressing about 40 people, Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, better known as the AFL-CIO, said people are only now stepping back to examine the nation’s poor economic situation.

“It takes the collapse of the housing industry, the subprime mortgage crisis, and a 15-percent plunge in the stock market to get the nation’s attention,” said Trumka in the Union’s Pendleton Room.

He added that the nation has been “growing apart economically, politically, and socially for the past 30 years.”

To avoid wage stagflation, job losses, eroding health care benefits and decreasing pensions, middle-class Americans must now work more jobs with longer hours, Trumka said.

Trumka said rising education costs have also been a major burden on the lower and middle classes, citing research showing that people between ages 24 and 34 spend about a quarter of their income on debt, making it difficult for them to eventually become homeowners.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “Workers, families, and unions, can rebuild and restore the American dream.”

The lecture drew union workers from the area. One of those workers, Daisy Jackson, a member of Child Care Union in Wayne County, said the lecture was an important one for college students to hear.

“If we let our young people understand this, they can get a better understanding of health care and the importance of having a union and why America is falling apart,” she said.

Billie Rohl, program administrator for the University’s Labor Studies Center, said Trumka was asked to speak at the University to foster open communication between organized labor and the University.

“Organized labor is stepping up to support what they view as a lack of interest at the University,” she said. “They want to be sure that there is still a link to labor studies at the University.”

Correction appended: The article previously misstated Billie Rohl’s comment to end the story. He used the word “they” to describe organized labor experts, not the word “we.”

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