Biden expands support among unions

Biden expands support among unions
© Greg Nash

Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Trump outraises Biden in July, surpasses billion for the cycle Duckworth: Republican coronavirus package would 'gut' Americans With Disabilities Act MORE is picking up support from union groups, with labor leaders eyeing the former vice president as key to winning back the many rank-and-file voters who backed President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE in key battleground states in the last election.

Since Biden’s Super Tuesday turnaround, a number of unions in the next round of primary voting states have begun backing his campaign. On Sunday, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) also announced they would back Biden after a vote by members.

Those moves reflect both labor’s unease over his rival Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersProgressives soaring after big primary night 'Absolutely incredible': Ocasio-Cortez congratulates Cori Bush on upset victory over Lacy Clay Sanders supporters launch six-figure ad campaign explaining why they're voting for Biden MORE’s (I-Vt.) “Medicare for All” proposal and broadly a sense that Biden has the momentum to seal the nomination and can win back union workers in the general election.

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Biden won the endorsement last month of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which had endorsed Sanders in 2016.

“We polled our members. We took an extensive poll of all our members of all the candidates,” ATU President John Costa told The Hill about his union’s endorsement toward Biden. “When we asked who they think would be the best candidate to succeed Trump, it was actually much bigger on Biden’s side.”

Biden has received union endorsements from the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), National Association of Government Employees, Scranton Federation of Teachers, International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among others.

Sanders’s union endorsements include the American Postal Workers Union, National Union of Healthcare Workers and the Washington Teachers’ Union.

But Biden has been picking up steam in recent days, rolling out a number of endorsements over the weekend from unions in states voting on Tuesday, including Michigan and Missouri.

“Vice President Biden has spent his entire career standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the labor movement, fighting to help them secure fair wages, good health benefits, and safe working conditions,” Biden spokesman Michael Gwin told The Hill. “The endorsements Joe Biden’s received from unions across this country are a testament to that record and to the strong support Joe has from working families — the kind of support that Democrats need to beat Trump in November and retake the Senate.”

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Sanders’s campaign did not respond to The Hill’s requests for comments.

Many of the biggest union players are still on the sidelines, though, likely holding their endorsements until the contentious primary fight between Sanders and Biden plays out.

Those include the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with about 2 million members, and the American Federation of Teachers and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, each with well over 1 million members. Those groups all endorsed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  MORE in the last cycle by fall 2015, a year before the election.

For those unions that are endorsing during the primary fight it is a risky gamble as they look to avoid any ill will from either camp.

In a statement announcing that the machinists union was backing Biden after a vote of members, IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. urged members to stay united after the primary.

“I encourage our members whose preferred candidate did not receive our endorsement to remain committed to our core principles. In a union as diverse as the IAM, it is OK to have different views with one common cause. We are strongest when we are united,” said Martinez.

Medicare for All has been a point of contention for unions. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union last month criticized Sanders’s plan to replace private insurance plans. After a backlash from Sanders supporters, the union said it would not endorse a candidate before the caucuses.

“Rank-and-file union members have concerns over Medicare for All. They either have private health care and many use ObamaCare. I think people know there are horror stories about Medicare out there now,” said Anthony Bedell, senior corporate and government relations director at Becker and a Republican.

Biden also has a tough sell with some labor leaders, who express disappoint that the Obama administration did not do enough to enact pro-union policies.

Critics note that under the Obama administration Democrats failed to pass or enact sweeping labor rights reforms, in particular card-check, a process that would make it easier to organize workers.

Biden and Sanders both have endorsed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), a major labor-reform bill passed by House Democrats in February. The bill, which is dead in the Republican Senate, would make it easier for workers to certify unions, change how employers classify workers and prevent workers from being denied rights because of immigration status, among other measures. The bill would also put into place card check, which is backed by Sanders. Biden’s website also touts his support for the measure.

Sanders has also detailed his own labor proposals, which aim to double union membership, in addition to incorporating many of the PRO Act’s provisions.

Regardless of the eventual nominee, labor groups expect to play a central role as Democrats fight to retake the White House in November.

The SEIU recently announced its biggest election program in the union’s history, saying it will spend $150 million in 2020 up and down the ballot. The union spent about $79 million in 2016, when it backed eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton early, but has not endorsed yet this cycle. The group said endorsements are decided by a vote of the board, which is elected by rank-and-file members.

Democrats will need labor groups to spend big to help counter the massive funds Trump and the Republican National Committee are bringing in.

There are high stakes for both sides. Biden will need to win back blue-collar voters who aided Trump’s victory in 2016. Unions, meanwhile, have painted the 2020 election as crucial, coming at a time when union rolls are falling and groups are worried about the administration’s pro-business, deregulatory agenda.

Trump though has made it clear he is also intent on keeping those voters in his column, especially in battleground states. When Biden launched his campaign, he did it in front of union workers, touting his support for labor. In May, after the IAFF endorsed Biden, Trump criticized the group’s leaders in a series of tweets and retweeted support from rank-and-file members.

“In 2016, Trump was sending the right message to some of the rank and file union members and they liked it,” said Moses Mercado, a principal at Ogilvy and a Democrat. Mercado downplayed the importance of union endorsements for rank-and-file voters.

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“Union leadership endorsements are like when your boss says you need to do this and that. You do what you need to do for your own family and interests,” he said.

But union leaders who are backing Biden say they will be coming out in force for their candidate.

“We’re mobilizing members throughout the country, we’re attending his rallies. We’ve maxed out. We’re going to have boots on the ground,” said ATU’s Costa.