Democratic Presidential Candidates Are Wooing Labor Unions And Competing For Endorsements

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren speak during a debate.
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A new report from The New York Times details an ongoing dynamic behind the scenes of the Democratic primary race: The candidates are courting and wooing labor unions, and competing for their endorsements.

Although labor unions have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, Republicans have also managed to make some inroads with organized labor, which culminated in Donald Trump addressing some of the working people’s “grievances,” as the NYT put it, in 2016, which helped him win against Hillary Clinton.

As Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., explained, Democrats appear to have learned their lesson, realizing that they have to address the issues working Americans face in order to win elections.

“I think the lessons that Democrats — and these candidates particularly — have come to understand is, unless you talk about the economic issues that affect working people, you are not going to get elected,” Trumka said.

“The more they do that, the more workers will connect with them,” he added.

This shift in approach has changed how White House hopefuls campaign, with some of them signaling support for labor, and others joining picket lines, and holding round-table discussions with union members.

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale explained that Democrats’ apparent willingness to address the concerns of working Americans and organized labor works to the advantage of both candidates and union leaders since White House hopefuls are now regularly interacting with workers, and looking to secure their vote.

Each of the top contenders has already made strides with organized labor.

Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered his first campaign speech before the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed him. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has promised to have a labor leader serve as her labor secretary. Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke both participated in a program with the Service Employees International Union.

Sanders, who frequently references his “100 percent pro-union voting record,” as well as his participation in picket lines, has been aggressively courting organized labor and recently released a plan for workplace democracy.

“It is the trade-union movement in this country which is the last line of defense against the incredible power of corporate America right now,” he recently told an audience of over 1,000 of his activists and union members who have already thrown their support behind him.

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Labor unions have not yet picked their favorite, however. During the 2016 presidential race, some unions endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton early on, angering members, so organized labor has a different approach to the 2020 race.

“In the past, we have been a union that has endorsed relatively early. We are not planning on doing that this time — we want to hear from the candidates,” Lee Saunders, the president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said.

The American Federation of Teachers, whose early endorsement of Clinton did not sit well with some of its members, has not yet endorsed a candidate either.

According to the union’s president Randi Weingarten, members want to wait and “see who they feel a connection to.”