DemDaily: Labor Wades In

February 6, 2020

The endorsement of major labor unions is a coveted ticket, and Joe Biden just scored a major victory in that camp, one that could open the doors to considerably more resources and votes at a time when the former Vice President is in much need of a boost.

Traditionally the backbone of organizing in elections, close to 100 national unions, and thousands of state and local affiliates, have the ability to turn out their members and their financial support in mass numbers. In 2016 labor contributed $218 million to federal candidates, political parties, super PACs and outside groups.

Coming on the heals of the partial, but still not complete, results of the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus, in which Biden appears to have finished fourth, the endorsement of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is a huge boon.


In announcing IBEW's endorsement, President Lonnie Stephenson said "What makes Joe Biden different..isn't just his support for our rights on the job, but his support for good energy jobs. Our country needs a realistic plan to combat the ongoing threat of climate change without putting energy security or working families at risk."

The IBEW represents 775,000 active and retired electrical workers across North America, and is one of the largest affiliates of the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU), which is part of the AFL-CIO.

The NABTU is a coalition of 14 construction trade unions representing over 200 industries in construction and many blue-collar workers from crucial swing states.

Wading In
While the courtship for labor's support has been in full force, unions have shied away from wading into the 2020 contest. 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.

While 86% of labor's support goes to Democrats, 42% of union households voted for Trump in 2016, compared to 51% for Hillary Clinton

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 are more openly engaging their members in the process.

Bernie Sanders at Machinists (IAM) Conference in April, with IAM Int'l President Robert Martinez, Jr (left)

Several, like the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM), which was the second national union to endorse Clinton in 2016, are taking a more democratic approach.

For the first time, IAM is providing their members the opportunity to vote online, through an independent firm, for a candidate of their choosing. The IAM's endorsement is expected at the beginning of next month.

Labor Under Trump
Unions are also holding the candidates more accountable with questionnaires with commitments to support issues of importance to the movement and to their individual trades.

Despite Donald Trump's 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 10.7% of the workforce.

In fact, unions have experienced unrelenting attacks under the Trump administration on everything from trade, pensions and infrastructure, to healthcare and deregulation. Among the greatest blows have come from wars waged in the courts and in the legislatures.

Elizabeth Warren, one of nine candidates at NABTU Conference in April (NABTU)

In July of 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled against unions in Janus v. AFSCME by stripping them of their power to collect dues or fair share fees from members who benefit from their collective bargaining. Unions have been battling similar, GOP-driven "Right-to-Work" legislation in the states, 27 of which have a form of the anti-labor statutes on the books.

Who's On Board
Biden scored the first endorsement of a major national union last year with the prominent support of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), which stayed out of the 2016 election, declining to endorse Hillary Clinton or Trump.

He also has the support of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers (IWINTL) and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE).

Bernie Sanders, however, also has strong support from labor, including the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), National Nurses United (NNU) and, as of last week, the American Postal Workers Union.

In addition to endorsement of state and local unions, which all three have, Elizabeth Warren has the endorsement of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which she shares with Sanders.

None of the remaining candidates currently in the race have secured labor support. Last September the International Union of Police Associations endorsed Donald Trump.

(Matt Popovich/Flickr)

Next Up
Still, most of major labor, including the more progressive public employee and teachers unions, have yet to endorse. With the primaries underway, however, we may see a rollout in the coming month of those wishing to weigh in at this point in the game.

The AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization of a majority of the country's unions, is expected to host a candidate forum in the spring of 2020.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: CenterForResponsivePolitics, IBEW, CNBC, CNN, AFLCIO, Wiki

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