DemDaily: Labor Backs Biden

May 29, 2020

"The path to the presidency runs through the labor movement," said Richard Trumka, President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), in announcing this week the Federation's endorsement of Joe Biden.

Biden and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (Keith Srakocic/AP)

The blessing of the "AFL," labor's largest umbrella organization, brings the financial, organizing and people power of 55 unions representing 12.5 million members.

Their greatest value, however, lies at the ballot box in the battle over working-class voters in November.

Although the AFL-CIO, and a majority of national labor unions endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, Donald Trump, who campaigned as a champion of workers, secured 42% of the vote in union households compared to Clinton's 51%.

Union members are also heavily concentrated in crucial midwest and rustbelt swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the last three of which Trump narrowly won in 2016. In addition to these states, Trumka told the Washington Post that the AFL-CIO will also focus on other election battlegrounds such as Florida, Arizona and Minnesota.

In a statement, Biden, who has been a loyal voice for labor throughout his career, said he was "honored and humbled to have earned the endorsement."

"In the face of COVID-19 we're seeing without any doubt how important unions are to this country - fighting for their workers to have personal protective equipment, for paid leave, and for safer workplaces. As we come out of this crisis, there is an incredible need and opportunity to create good-paying, union jobs across the country and ensure the United States owns the 21st Century." -- Joe Biden

The AFL-CIO's endorsement follows that of many of its affiliates, most of which were cemented in recent months as Biden emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

(Matt Popovich/Flickr)

Two of the AFL's largest unions, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Biden in March, as did the National Education Association (NEA), the country's most populous union with 3 million members, but one which is independent of the AFL.

In the 2016 presidential election, early national endorsements of then-frontrunner Hillary Clinton caused consternation among some rank-and-file members who supported Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.

The endorsement decisions have traditionally been one made by union leadership who, in some cases, struggle to convince their membership to vote in their best interests. For 2020, however, most of the major unions invited candidates to speak early on at their conferences and more openly engaged their members in the process.

Members have also felt, firsthand, the betrayal of Trump's promises. Despite his 2016 campaign pledge to "stop the jobs from leaving America," US workers are seeing their jobs outsourced at a record pace.

Union membership, which peaked in the 1950s, has been In decline -- now at just 10.3% of the workforce.

In fact, under the Trump administration, unions have experienced unrelenting attacks on everything from trade, pensions and infrastructure, to healthcare and deregulation.

"Over the past four years, the president showed his true colors. He slashed rules designed to protect us on the job and cut workplace health and safety inspectors to their lowest level in history. He took away overtime pay from millions of workers. At every turn, he has actively undermined collective bargaining and the freedom to form a union," said Trumka in a video announcement.

Communication Workers of America (CWA), with 700,000 members, endorsed Biden May 28th

"Joe Biden is a lifelong supporter of workers and has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights...and he is ready to fight with us to restore faith in America and improve the lives of all working people."

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: CenterForResponsivePolitics, AFLCIO, Washington Post, BureauLaborStatistics

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