Biden picks up Communications Workers, Steelworkers endorsements
CWA President Chris Shelton is backing Biden. He and his union had been strong supporters of Bernie Sanders before Sanders suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. | Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON—Accelerating his backing from big unions, former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, picked up the official backing of the Steelworkers on May 20 and the Communications Workers two days later.

The decisions put Biden ever closer to the magic numbers he needed for the AFL-CIO’s presidential endorsement, which has now come through.  Starting with the Fire Fighters early this year – when he had barely begun his campaign – Biden has won backing from 15 unions, all but two of them in the AFL-CIO.

They include the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, which is independent, along with the AFL-CIO’s biggest unions, each with more than a million members: The Teachers (AFT), AFSCME and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

That federation endorsement came days later, on May 26, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced.

In recommending his board OK Biden on May 22, CWA President Chris Shelton said Biden is “someone who will walk the walk when it comes to fighting for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.”

By contrast, Biden’s foe, incumbent GOP President Donald Trump, views workers as “expendable” and “that automatically disqualifies” Trump from union backing, Shelton added.

“Joe understands labor’s mantra: ‘Which side are you on?’ He knows who built America and who built the middle class. When we need him, Joe and his White House will be there for us, ready to help. It’s about time the President of the United States was an ally and promoter of organized labor, not an enemy,” Shelton said.

CWA’s endorsement is notable for two reasons: Its political activism, nurtured by Shelton and his predecessor, Larry Cohen, and that CWA and the Postal Workers were two of the five unions to back Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., in his challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nod.

Shelton cited Biden’s support for the Protect The Right To Organize Act, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, and that “his broadband plan includes language requiring companies receiving funds to remain neutral on workers’ organizing efforts” as evidence of Biden’s commitment to workers’ rights.

Biden made those same points in a video the union requested, which was also distributed.

Steelworkers President Thomas Conway hit many of the same themes in announcing USW’s backing of Biden. The Steelworkers are known for their outstanding and active political organizing.

Conway said Biden answered a detailed questionnaire, which the union distributed to all its members. It followed up with 170 town hall meetings on the decision. Conway also said health and safety issues, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic, were atop members’ thinking.

“Workers need an administration that takes workplace health and safety seriously, now more than ever, and Vice President Biden’s record supporting strong, enforceable federal safety standards that help keep workers healthy and safe make it clear that he is committed to this vital work.

“We came to this endorsement through listening. We listened to our members when they told us that their top issues were affordable health care and prescription drugs, retirement security, and labor laws that protect working people,” he said. “We also listened to the candidates, examined their responses to our questionnaire, and assessed what their past records demonstrate about their values.”

“Vice President Biden shared his plans for how he intends to expand access to affordable health care, protect those with preexisting conditions, stabilize multiemployer pension plans, defend Social Security and preserve and expand labor rights.

“Joe Biden spent his life fighting for these things because he understands what it’s like to work for a living. As the son of a working-class family from Pennsylvania’s coal country, he has never forgotten his roots. We are confident that as president, he will put workers and their needs first.”

Shelton also had harsh words for Trump, in addition to citing Trump’s disdain for workers. Trump answered neither union’s questionnaire.

“The past three years – and indeed just the past three months – have proven the 2016 election was the most damaging election of our lifetimes. Donald Trump’s victory that year will tear at the fabric of our society and the health of our communities for years to come and will worsen if he is re-elected,” Shelton said. His three-month reference, of course, is to Trump’s disastrous anti-worker record in handling the coronavirus pandemic. As of May 27, some 1.7 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus and 100,000 have died.

Besides the Fire Fighters, CWA, the Steelworkers, both teachers unions and UFCW, other unions that endorsed Biden before the AFL-CIO acted were the United Auto Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, AFSCME, the Ironworkers, the Machinists, the Electrical Workers (IBEW), the International Longshoremen’s Association, the National Association of Government Employees – a 100,000-member Service Employees sector — and the Transport Workers.

Still to be heard from are the nation’s two postal unions, several building trades unions, and the Service Employees and the Teamsters, who are not part of the AFL-CIO. But Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando, in an article in the union’s journal in April, forecast what may well be a Biden endorsement.

Rolando praised both Biden and his final then-remaining foe, Sanders, for strong support of workers in general and the USPS and its workers in particular. Both “passed our test with flying colors,” Rolando said then. By contrast, Trump “has been pretty atrocious.”

So far, one small AFL-CIO union, the International Union of Police Associations, backs Trump. “Every top Democrat currently running for this office has vilified the police and made criminals out to be victims,” IUPA President Sam Cabral charged when revealing his union’s decision last September.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.