AFL-CIO: No early labor endorsement in 2020 presidential race
AFSCME President Lee Saunders, left, accompanied by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, holds up a booklet called "Strong Unions, Stronger Communities" as he speaks at a news conference on American labor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 1, 2017. Saunders, who also serves as chair of the federation's political committee, told People's World that labor will not be making an early endorsement of any of the announced Democratic presidential candidates. | Andrew Harnik / AP

NEW ORLEANS—The AFL-CIO, the 12.5 million-strong labor federation, will not be making an early endorsement in the 2020 presidential race.

“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 here yesterday for the 2019 Winter meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council.

The federation’s political committee met here Monday morning behind closed doors, and politics is expected to be very much on the agenda of the full council on Wednesday of this week when executive council members are in session 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, upbeat after the trip here 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. Labor 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 that the Democratic National Committee has chosen 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 that Wisconsin was where AFSCME was founded and seemed pleased that “the convention will be held in a state where voters rejected Gov. Scott Walker’s disgraceful attacks on working families.”

Wisconsin, of course, was one of the handful of upper Midwest rust belt states that 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 Democratic Party’s choice of Milwaukee shows it is determined not to ignore the state again.

Tefere Gebre, the AFL-CIO’s executive vice president, was also upbeat upon arrival here. “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 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!”

To his point, for years the Loews was the only union hotel in New Orleans.

“Since you guys (People’s World) were down here after the oil spill, we have unionized the Hilton down the block and the Harrah’s Casino across the street, lifting out of poverty hundreds of workers in those places. The workers rose up themselves and said ‘enough is enough, we’re going union!’”

The federation’s 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 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 $12.00.”

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.”


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.