BOSTON (CN) — Former Vice President Joe Biden won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest coalition of labor unions, on Tuesday, in a development that could help him in union-heavy swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Biden is “the embodiment of goodness and decency,” said Richard Trumka, president of the 12.5 million-member organization, in a video.
The endorsement was not unexpected as the 55-union coalition frequently endorses Democrats, but the timing was significant. Although Biden has previously been endorsed by at least 16 other large union organizations — including the AFSCME public employees’ union, the United Auto Workers, and the National Education Association — the AFL-CIO withheld its endorsement until more than six weeks after Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he was backing Biden and effectively ended the race.
Just five months ago, the AFL-CIO announced its support for President Donald Trump’s USMCA trade deal. Trumka had previously told USA Today that Trump was “going in the right direction on trade” with the deal — often characterized as “NAFTA 2.0” — and “understands what needs to be done.”
And the union had previously been openly critical of the Obama-Biden administration over a number of issues, including the “Cadillac tax” on health plans that was repealed late last year and the failure to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make union organizing easier.
In the video released Tuesday, Trumka noted that many rank-and-file members had voted for Trump in 2016. He sought to address these members directly.
“Donald Trump campaigned as a friend of workers, talking about a new direction and a new day after decades of policies that left us poorer and weaker. Some working people, desperate for a rapid departure from business as usual, took a chance on Trump. Look, I get it,” Trumka said.
“Over the past four years, the president showed his true colors. He slashed rules designed to protect us on the job. He cut workplace health and safety inspectors to their lowest level in history. He took overtime pay away from millions of workers. At every turn, he’s actively undermined collective bargaining and the freedom to form a union,” Trumka continued.
While union organizational support is often critical for Democrats in elections, Trumka noted the pandemic could make this much more difficult. But he promised a vigorous effort in swing states consisting of “virtual phone banks, peer-to-peer texting, digital actions and, as always, union-member-to-union-member conversations.”
“The path to the presidency runs through the labor movement,” Trumka said. “And with the full force and unmatched reach of our political program, we are ready to pave that road for our friend Joe Biden.”
He added: “D.C. didn’t change Joe; Joe changed D.C. He fought for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights.”
Trumka also suggested that union support is on the upswing. “Gallup puts our approval at 64%, a nearly 50-year high,” he claimed. “Sixty million workers would join a union today if they were only given a chance.”
Biden thanked the union and said, “I’m running to be the best president for workers in American history. As we come out of this crisis, there is an incredible need and opportunity to create good-paying union jobs across the country and ensure the United States owns the 21st century.”