AFL-CIO: No Early Presidential Endorsements​

The AFL-CIO will not be making an early endorsement in the 2020 presidential contest.

“There will be no early endorsement of any of the candidates who have announced,” Lee Saunders, chair of the federation’s political committee, told People’s World, as he arrived in New Orleans for the 2019 winter meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council.

The federation’s political committee met March 11 behind closed doors, and politics was very much on the agenda of the full council when members convened at the headquarters of Local 130 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans.

“What we are planning now is to organize, mobilize, and educate not just all our members but more broadly all the working people of America on the importance of taking concern for our issues and bringing them into the elections in 2020,” Saunders said.

Saunders, upbeat after the trip from Washington, D.C., was pushing a roller-bag full of luggage and heading to his room in the Loews Hotel when People’s World caught up with him.

When asked what he expects of the 14 candidates already vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination, he said, “We want them to talk to our members and communicate to them and to all working families very clearly what they intend to do to lift people up. We will put the issues we care about front and center in the political debate heading into 2020.”

Close to the hearts of all the labor leaders gathered here is legislation that makes it easier for workers to organize into unions. Many had high hopes at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term that the Democratic-controlled Congress would pass and he would sign the Employee Free Choice Act. The law would have required companies to recognize unions as soon as a majority of workers signed cards expressing their desire to unionize.

But even with a 60-vote Democratic super-majority in the Senate and control of the House, the legislation did not pass at that time because of resistant Democrats influenced by big business, a GOP filibuster threat and a nasty multi-million-dollar corporate campaign. Union leaders have not given up on this, however, and will push the Democrats hard on the issue this time around.

Speaking as president of AFSCME, Saunders said he was pleased the Democratic National Committee chose Milwaukee to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

“America’s heartland is a great place for the nominee of the Democratic Party to communicate a vision for how he or she will lift up working families. That would include making it easier for workers to join in strong unions.”

Saunders noted Wisconsin was where AFSCME was founded and seemed pleased that “the convention will be held in a state where voters, on the third try, rejected GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s disgraceful attacks on working families.”

Wisconsin, of course, was one of the handful of upper Midwest Rust Belt states where Trump squeaked by Hillary Clinton, giving him the Electoral College votes he needed to win, despite her three million-plus lead in the popular vote nationally.

Clinton did not campaign in Wisconsin after the primaries and the Democrats’ choice of Milwaukee for its 2020 convention shows the party is determined not to ignore the state again.

Tefere Gebre, the AFL-CIO’s executive vice president, was also upbeat upon arrival. “I believe unions will be able to play a big part in turning around this country in 2020,” he said. “We backed candidates who won last November, ending the GOP lock on the Congress, and I am hopeful for the future that we can do it.”

One of the most enthusiastic labor leaders at the Loews Hotel on Monday, however, was Robert “Tiger” Hammond, the president of the New Orleans AFL-CIO. Hammond was busy running around the lobby greeting union leaders as they arrived. “After all, I’m the host here,” he said, explaining what he was doing to People’s World.

“I can’t promise that Louisiana will vote against Trump,” he said. “Too many (people) north of New Orleans have drunk the Trump Kool-Aid, but things are hopping down here in the city. Unions are growing here again, man!”

Federation President Richard Trumka has also been emphasizing the point that more and more people are taking collective action to meet their needs, and he frequently points to the fact that at least 200,000 people joined unions last year.

Hammond said that in New Orleans they have also been able to make progress on growing the minimum wage. “While the state minimum wage in Louisiana remains stuck at the national minimum of $7.25,” he explained, “we have gotten it up to $11.50 here in New Orleans, and soon it will go to $12.”

Union growth in New Orleans was something people could only hope for after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. Teachers’ unions, transport unions, and many others were systematically dismantled as the Bush administration and Republicans on the state level conducted almost every right-wing social and political experiment imaginable in the devastated city. “The people fought back,” Hammond said, “and we are winning.”  

(PAI)