Biden puts union support at the center of the agenda

President Biden took the stage to promote his $ 1 trillion infrastructure spending plan after being pitched by a union member, a bus maintenance worker, and was quick to point out who deserved credit for it. ‘helping get it through Congress and who would benefit.

“Union, union, union! Mr. Biden said Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri. “There are a lot of good, decent people in the financial industry, but they haven’t built the middle class. The unions have built the middle class.

Mr. Biden has rarely missed an opportunity to underscore his interest in strengthening the American labor movement, including through a multitude of provisions in his legislative initiatives. He visited a union training center in Michigan and handed out sandwiches to union members in Delaware. When he signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill on the White House lawn, dozens of union members were in attendance.

Behind the push: Trying to win back grassroots union members, especially those in construction and commerce, who in recent years have turned to the populist appeal of former Republican President Donald Trump. Mr Trump has reached out to the unions, holding meetings at the White House and presenting his own infrastructure plan.

Union support was essential to Mr. Biden’s victory in several Rust Belt states in 2020, reversing some of Mr. Trump’s gains, and the choices of those voters in 2022 will play a key role in the midterm elections.

Unions have spent tens of millions of dollars to campaign contributions in recent cycles, the vast majority going to Democrats. Unions representing teachers, construction workers and government workers were the biggest donors.

Tens of thousands of American workers are on strike and thousands more are trying to organize. WSJ examines the roots of this new work activity and speaks with a labor economist for more context on the changing landscape of work in the United States. Photo: Alyssa Keown / AP

Just under 11% of the national workforce is unionized, Data from the Ministry of Labor 2020 shows, up slightly from 2019, but down from its peak of around 20% in 1983, as manufacturing jobs fell and outsourcing increased. However, public support for unions is at its highest since 1965, according to a Gallup survey conducted in August. Employees spoke more about work environments and got higher wages. And both political parties pushed to restore national manufacturing.

Thursday, Starbucks Corp.

Buffalo, NY baristas voted to form the first union at one of the coffee giant’s American cafes in its 50-year history. The White House, without commenting specifically on the case, underscored Mr. Biden’s support for the right of workers to organize if they so choose. The President on Friday condemned a plan by the Kellogg grain company Co.

permanently replace around 1,400 striking union workers, calling it an “existential attack on the union, the jobs and livelihoods of its members.”

Mr Biden gained attention earlier this year when he publicly supported an trade union campaign Inc.

Alabama workers, who will have a second chance to vote after a federal labor council cited violations in the company’s campaign earlier this year against unionization.

The spending plans at the heart of Mr. Biden’s agenda – and his party’s hopes of retaining a majority in Congress – are replete with worker-backed provisions, including a move to help unionized companies make billions of dollars in new green energy projects, funding for home care services provided by unionized workers, and increased fines for workplace safety violations.

In April 2019, Joe Biden hosted supporters at a Teamsters hall in Pittsburgh during his presidential campaign.


Justin Merriman / Bloomberg News

But Mr Biden’s appeal to grassroots members is complicated by the Democratic Party’s broader liberal turn to place more emphasis on racial and social policies, climate change and gun control, according to the union members and leaders.

“The whole party is fighting and is kind of dull,” said Scott Johnson, business manager for Local 210 of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers in Erie, Pa. He supports Mr. Biden but estimates that half of the union’s members support Mr. Trump.

In recent years, Democrats have struggled to win the support of unqualified white voters, adding to concerns about support from union members, especially those in the construction trades.

“Among the rank and file, there isn’t an overwhelming sense of ‘Biden is great’,” said Joe Hughes, organizing director of a section of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trade near Pittsburgh. . Workers, he said, are more concerned about “the dark cloud of Covid” and oppose vaccination mandates.

Mr Hughes, who campaigned for Mr Biden in a state that narrowly opted for Mr Trump in 2016 but turned to the president in 2020, is optimistic that workers who are already earning wages more important ones will come back. “I think deep down you’re like, ‘This guy isn’t bad for me.'”

A Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed Mr. Biden’s job rating in unionized households to be 47% approval, 51% disapproval. Among voters in general, there was 41% approval, 57% disapproval.


Will Biden’s pro-union initiatives help Democrats halfway through? Why or why not? Join the conversation below.

Mr Biden, who started his 2020 campaign in a Teamsters room in Pennsylvania, has repeatedly sought to show his support for the unions. On the first day of his tenure, he sacked National Labor Relations Board attorney general Peter Robb, who was criticized by task forces for various actions, including a settlement with McDonald’s. Corp.

which has helped protect the company from liability for the employment practices of its hundreds of US franchisees. In April, Biden signed an executive order creating a task force to promote workers’ organization.

Republicans say it is addressing special interests, targeting more liberal unions such as those representing teachers, and that it could hurt businesses with new regulations and fines. The White House has also criticized electric vehicle tax credits as part of the evolving healthcare, education and climate change agenda, which provides for the total tax deduction of $ 12,500 just for manufactured vehicles. by union workers using American-made batteries. You’re here Inc.

and Toyota Motor Corp.

, whose non-union vehicles would qualify for $ 4,500 less, say Biden is prioritizing a political ally, the United Auto Workers, over the environment.

“This is all designed to put the finger on the scales for labor,” said Neil Bradley, director of policy at the US Chamber of Commerce. “Unions play an important role in our economy, but we need economic policies that promote job creation and wage growth for all Americans, not just those who belong to a union.”

Opponents have launched a lobbying fight to change the law and are considering other pro-union provisions in the social spending package, including one requiring entrepreneurs to pay prevailing wages to benefit from federal tax incentives on construction projects. ‘green energy.

Ironworker Heather Kurtenbach, right, spoke at the South Lawn Infrastructure Bill signing ceremony at the White House last month.


Alex Wong / Getty Images

At numerous events to present his plans, Mr Biden was introduced by a worker, including Heather Kurtenbach, a 48-year-old ironworker from Washington state who spoke at the signing of the infrastructure bill from the White House last month. She recounted how, after being released from prison in 2005 on drug-related charges, she got a union apprenticeship and rose through the ranks.

In an interview, she agreed that some grassroots workers have distanced themselves from Democrats, even though she said Mr. Trump’s policies hurt unions. “I really can’t understand it; all I can say is I know these people are so tired of the far left, ”she said.

Mr. Trump exploited this point of view in 2016 to gain support from builders, electricians, plumbers, roofers and miners – longtime union members and largely white men. He’s fared better among union members than any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan, according to exit polls. Mr Biden, learning from the mistakes of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, focused more on workers in battlefields such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, toppling states.

Overall, he got 56% of the vote from unionized households compared to Mr. Trump’s 42%, according to AP Votecast, a national survey of voters. Separate Edison Research exit polls found a similar split, from 56% to 40%, indicating that Mr Biden had improved over Ms Clinton’s eight percentage point advantage in 2016.

“Often in the past, there was a way of talking about blue collar workers without saying the word union, without touting collective bargaining,” said Greg Regan, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s transportation trades department. “Now instead of saying ‘create good jobs’ we say ‘create good union jobs’. This is how you start to bring these people back with policies that are making a difference in their lives.

Said Ms. Kurtenbach, “If the infrastructure doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.”

Write to Alex Leary at [email protected]

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