2020 Democrats show off labor cred at union event

2020 Democrats show off labor cred at union event
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Democratic presidential hopefuls clambered to showcase their labor credentials this week in a bid to wow members of an influential union whose endorsement could offer a critical boost in their party’s 2020 nominating contest.

Over the course of two days at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) legislative conference, seven contenders recalled personal ties to organized labor, railed against international trade agreements and decried right-to-work laws that they said had gutted organized labor protections across the country.

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“I stand here today as a proud, proud, proud child of unions,” Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLobbying world Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman House committee requests hearing with postmaster general amid mail-in voting concerns MORE (D-Minn.) said Tuesday, recalling how her mother, a teacher, had left Wisconsin for Minnesota because of the strength of teachers’ unions there.

And Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerUSAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill MORE (D-N.J.) recounted how his grandfather became a Democrat after beginning work on an assembly line during the Great Depression and joining a labor union.

“He joined a union. And that union stood up, not just for themselves — they were fighting for America, for a beloved community,” Booker said.

The appearances underscore just how eager Democrats are to court members of major trade unions at a time when many labor groups are reluctant to wade in early to the 2020 presidential race.

So far, only the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has backed a candidate in the Democratic primary, announcing late last month that it would endorse former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Biden offers well wishes to Lebanon after deadly explosion MORE.

Among the candidates who spoke at the IAM conference were Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandBiden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (D-N.Y.), Klobuchar and Booker, as well as Reps. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: HHS Secretary Azar says US plans to have tens of millions of vaccine doses this fall; Kremlin allegedly trying to hack vaccine research Democrats see victory in Trump culture war House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay MORE (D-Ohio) and Seth MoultonSeth MoultonPortland: The Pentagon should step up or pipe down House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (D-Mass.) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight MORE (D-Md.).

The IAM announced earlier this week that it had reformed its presidential endorsement process to include a vote by its full membership, a change spurred by lingering frustration among many members with the group’s early endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war Should Biden consider a veteran for vice president? Biden leads Trump by nearly 40 points in California: poll MORE in the 2016 presidential primary contest. The union has nearly 600,000 active and retired members.

That endorsement, like those of many major unions, came months before voting ever began in the Democratic nominating contest — in August 2015 — prompting criticism from members and local affiliates who broke with union leaders to support Sanders.

The goal of the new endorsement process, IAM leaders say, is to increase transparency and make candidates compete out in the open for the union’s support. An official endorsement isn’t expected until after voting begins next year.

“It might be easier to do it the old way. We could sit down with the candidates and negotiate in a private meeting, asking them to make promises they may or may not keep,” Bob Martinez, the machinist union’s international president, wrote in a letter to members this week.

“Or we could really make them work for our endorsement.”

Each candidate that took the stage on Tuesday and Wednesday appeared intent on doing just that.

Sanders touted that he had “walked on more picket lines all over this country than I can remember,” all the while vowing to put an “immediate moratorium” on cuts to pension benefits overseen by the federal government if elected next year, a pledge that drew lingering applause from conferencegoers.

Gillibrand boasted that her home state of New York is “one of the most unionized states in the country.”

And Ryan, who has tied his presidential bid in part to a pledge to revive the country’s industrial hubs, cast himself on Wednesday as the candidate that understood blue-collar America — “a kid from steel country” who would lead a working-class takeover of a corrupt political system.

“I’m just a kid from steel country; an old high school quarterback from northeast Ohio — Friday night lights,” Ryan said. “You know what? It’s about time we have a quarterback in the White House in the United States of America.”

Democrats see the support of union workers as crucial if they hope to win in the Midwestern swing states that helped propel President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE to victory in 2016.

While union leaders have long backed Democrats, many rank-and-file members broke for Trump in 2016, drawn to the real estate mogul’s promises to leave or renegotiate international trade deals and attract manufacturing jobs to the U.S.

As they took the stage at the IAM conference on Tuesday and Wednesday, the candidates sought to counter that message.

While working-class people had suffered from free trade agreements, labor outsourcing and stagnant wages, several candidates argued, Trump had only made the situation more dire.

“Thousands of American jobs have been outsourced since President Trump was elected president. Thousands of workers’ livelihoods have been devastated,” Gillibrand said, adding that the president “is not on your side.”