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Why are the Democrats sticking with Biden? Ask the unions

Why are the Democrats sticking with Biden? Ask the unions

Many of the country’s most powerful unions have confirmed that they remain behind President Biden despite flagging support from some leading Democrats, citing his willingness to support their priorities on nearly all issues during his first term.

The United Steelworkers, Communications Workers of America, Laborers’ International Union of North America and Unite Here unions confirmed to the Washington Post that they plan to continue supporting Biden despite his disastrous performance at last month’s debate.

“Definitely count us among the group that is redoubling its efforts,” said Brent Booker, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents about 400,000 U.S. workers in construction and other sectors. “He has done more for our members than any president in my lifetime.”

This week, Biden appears to be solidifying support among various parts of the Democratic Party. On Wednesday, he will stop by the AFL-CIO in Washington for a meeting of the country’s top labor leaders, although he had already extended that invitation before the debate.

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“I see no indication that any of our union leaders have backed down from their support (for Biden),” said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest union federation, whose affiliates represent about 12.5 million members.

Seth Schuster, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that the president “has always had the backs of union members – and he is grateful that they have his back.”

The unions’ solid support for the president comes as key voting blocs appear to be standing by Biden after several days of high-profile internal unrest. Biden met by Zoom phone on Monday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which also supports Biden.

“There are some key centers of power in the party whose loyalty Biden has built trust in for decades, and the support he has received this week – not just from unions but from other groups like the Congressional Black Caucus – is the culmination of those efforts,” said Tobin Marcus, director of U.S. politics and political science at Wolfe Research and an economic policy aide to Biden during his tenure as vice president under President Barack Obama.

Biden’s efforts to support unions could be especially important in strengthening his position among the whiter and more politically conservative construction trades, who can sell him politically more easily to their members than some of the alternatives, such as Vice President Harris.

“Most of my members already know pretty well what Joe Biden thinks about unions. I don’t doubt that (Harris) would support unions, but I don’t think she would have a chance,” said Dave Fashbaugh, 59, the executive director of a Michigan chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Despite the panic that Biden’s debate performance caused across much of the party, union support for the president has remained unwavering even in moments of greatest uncertainty. Unions have emphasized their support for both Biden and Harris, often campaigning jointly for both, and many union officials say publicly that they have as much confidence in Harris as they do in Biden.

As Democrats gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss their next steps, last week it issued a statement saying it stood in “deep solidarity with Biden-Harris candidate.” The country’s leading union endorsed Biden in June 2022, the earliest time it has ever intervened in a presidential campaign.

Biden’s meeting with the executive council of the AFL-CIO on Wednesday will focus on “how we mobilize our members and union budgets to win the states that Joe Biden needs,” said spokesman Smith, especially given the high membership density in the crucial swing states.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also reiterated their support for Biden to the Washington Post or made corresponding statements in recent days.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 1.7 million members, posted on X last week “First act today – put up the sign” with a picture of a Biden-Harris poster on her front yard.

Neither the Teamsters nor the American Postal Workers Union have yet endorsed the race.

Kara Deniz, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters, told the Post that the transportation workers union, which has about 1.3 million members, would not voice its support until after the meetings. Teamsters President Sean O’Brien plans to speak at the Republican National Convention later this month at the invitation of former President Donald Trump. O’Brien has also asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention.

Unions continue to be among Biden’s biggest donors, according to OpenSecrets, a Washington nonprofit that tracks campaign finance and lobbying data.

The Biden administration has made tremendous efforts to fulfill his promise to be the “most pro-union president in history.”

He championed major legislation that channeled billions of dollars into creating union jobs in clean energy, semiconductors and other industries. He appointed union officials to key positions and offered unions bailouts for pensions, training funds and measures that made it easier for workers to organize.

Republicans have criticized Biden’s support for unions, saying his pro-union policies have increased costs for taxpayers and led to higher inflation. Conservatives say this alliance has boosted Biden’s standing within the Democratic coalition but harmed the country as a whole.

“Biden understands that all of politics, especially the Democratic Party, is about serving powerful interest groups, and none are more powerful than the unions,” said Stephen Moore, an economic adviser to Trump. “Biden has obviously got the teachers’ unions and the public employees’ unions on good terms, so they will stick with him through thick and thin.”

Several union officials and analysts downplayed the idea that Harris would be better able to win union votes in November than Biden.

In 2020, Biden improved Democrats’ performance among unionized workers compared to Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016. But overall, Democrats have made greater progress in winning over unionized voters after Trump’s surprisingly strong performance among that group.

“It’s true that Biden has focused on building a greater connection with these unions, and he has at least argued that he has a connection with them,” said Matt Grossman, a political scientist at Michigan State University. “But I don’t know if we can predict how Harris would do.”

Unions are much more racially and gender-diverse than they once were. While construction workers may be whiter than other unions, Harris could prove more effective at motivating more diverse and younger unions, some analysts say.

“Harris would be just as effective, if not more effective, in the crucial swing states,” said Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America.

“I think union leaders and activists are aware that, in the worst case scenario, she would be just as successful in mobilizing the unions’ core voters as Biden, because the alternative is Trump.”

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that even in this moment of political distress, the unions have demonstrated extraordinary loyalty to Biden.

“President Biden’s record for working people speaks for itself,” United Steelworkers President David McCall said in a written statement Tuesday. His “transformative infrastructure investments … are creating good, union jobs” and “his worker-centered trade policies … are rebuilding supply chains.”

Harris “does have some support among labor, but there’s no doubt that she doesn’t have the standing with unions that Biden does,” said Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank. “The unions have allies and they stand by them, and Biden has been a reliable ally. So I think they will stand by them.”