At SEIU convention, workers are ready to beat Trump in November
SEIU Local 1 members march through Philadelphia during the union's national convention this past weekend. | Baily Koch / SEIU Local 1 via X

PHILADELPHIA—Unionists at the Service Employees convention in Philadelphia strongly backed Democratic President Joe Biden over the Republican he defeated four years ago, Donald Trump. But they worried about lack of voter enthusiasm for Biden.

The views came as SEIU commits its delegates and its troops to an all-out effort to re-elect Biden, and to elect other pro-worker officials up and down the ballot this fall. But they also occur as the two are tied in public opinion polls.

And the tie flies in the face of the indictments of Trump on federal charges in D.C. and Georgia about trying to steal the 2020 election and of inciting and aiding the Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump’s also been indicted in federal court in Florida for stealing top-secret papers from the White House and transporting them to his Mar-a-Lago estate. And he faces potential conviction in New York State Supreme Court on criminal hush money charges to cover up his misogyny and prior affairs during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“It could go either way,” says Essex Christie, a Pennsylvania mental health worker and Local 68 member. “Some of the things we talked about here, such as immigration reform, could be taken in the opposite direction” from the comprehensive reform, including legalization, which SEIU advocates.

The high cost of housing is a big concern in Oregon, Local 49 member Scott Cheesewright of Portland said. With the median price of a two-bedroom house over $550,000, many families can’t afford it. “Our members are committed to affordable housing for working people,” he added. Jesus Figueroa Cacho, an Honduran native and now a Local 2015 member in Sacramento, agrees.

So is the Biden administration, Vice President Kamala Harris told the crowd. But she didn’t say how Democratic President Joe Biden would make homes more affordable.

“We have to organize, organize, organize,” adds Anica Walls, the new president of 96,000-member Local 1000, a California statewide local based in Sacramento, California’s capital.

That’s where the new SEIU team of President April Verrett and Secretary-Treasurer Rocio Saenz comes into the picture, Walls explains. Verrett, of Los Angeles, but a Chicago native and organizer there, and Saenz, who came to the U.S. at age 22 from Mexico, “are very inclusive of (union) locals and races and racial justice.”

As for pundits and prognosticators, “They say we’re not ready or not excited about the election, that we won’t knock on doors,” State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, told the crowd of SEIU members at the end of their May 19 march through downtown to Independence Hall.

“But from everything I’ve seen and everything I know, we’re ready, we’re prime time ready,” the 30-year veteran said. Hughes also predicted SEIU “would show the way for other unions” to campaign.

Stephanie Cole of Lancaster County, Pa., in the middle of the key swing state, agrees, and she’s been phone-banking for Biden. “I’m hearing we need to keep Trump out of office,” she reports from calling unionists and neighbors. “He’s going to set us back.”

Unite HERE Local 274 member Susan Wright, a Philadelphia Convention Center staffer during the SEIU conclave, voiced an added concern: The Trumpites appear more excited at the current moment—a point seconded by public opinion polls.

Texas SEIU member Peyton Abrams of Dallas, a 71-year-old in his first unionized job—he was a non-unionized crew scheduler for decades for Pan Am and for American Airlines—worries “we’ll have another January 6th” at the U.S. Capitol if Trump loses.

Because of his criminal charges, “Trump shouldn’t even be running,” fumes Cardell Calloway of California Local 721, which is organizing gig economy workers.

Calloway has another gripe about Trump which he may well bring up on the hustings. The Detroit native noticed when Trump flew to Michigan the day Biden walked a picket line with the Auto Workers there. Trump bought a rent-a-crowd of fake auto workers to cheer him on at a non-union parts plant.

“What he did in Detroit was insulting to Detroit. He hired false people, just like he hired fake electors” in Michigan to try to steal it in 2020. “I know a lot of Auto Workers in Detroit who don’t like him.”

“There’s less enthusiasm for Biden this time around,” Workers United-SEIU organizer Robert Freeman mused. “The young people are not happy with him.”

Though Freeman didn’t say so, many younger voters are dismayed and disgusted by Biden’s unconditional support for Israel and that nation’s horrific—35,000 dead so far—retaliatory attack on Gaza, using U.S. aid, and U.S.-made bombs, ammo, and planes.

What’s the outcome? Gabe Morgan of SEIU 32BJ in Pennsylvania isn’t sure—and he said so to the crowd on May 19.

“We have a huge fight this year,” he warned. “If we don’t win in Pennsylvania,” the largest of the swing states this fall, “Donald Trump will be president of the United States…You need someone who knows where to fight and when to show up. Don’t make me beg you.”

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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.