Is the AFL-CIO planning an early endorsement of Biden-Harris?
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on reproductive freedom at Howard University on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Washington. | Nathan Howard/AP

NEW ORLEANS—Is the AFL-CIO moving towards an early endorsement of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for re-election? Considering statements by and interviews of union leaders at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists convention here recently and other evidence, the answer could be “yes.”

Speakers paraded to the convention platform in New Orleans full of praise for both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who have already announced their 2024 re-election bid. Two of the backers of the duo, the Teachers’ Randi Weingarten and AFSCME’s Lee Saunders, head the AFL-CIO’s two largest unions.

The two largest non-AFL-CIO unions, the National Education Association and the Service Employees have already endorsed the Biden-Harris ticket, their presidents announced.

“We have in this president of the United States one of the most pro-union presidents in the history of the country,” declared Saunders, who also chairs the AFL-CIO’s political committee.

By contrast, “asshole” right-wing Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s pushed a slew of anti-union laws through his GOP-gerrymandered legislature, “is taking from us our seat at the table,” Saunders said. He didn’t mention DeSantis’s running second in the GOP to Donald Trump.

“But all of us can do something about it,” Saunders declared.

Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten was even blunter. Her union has started to canvass its members to discover their presidential preference before it decides. “But I don’t care what the issue is, except for you electing Joe Biden,” she declared.

President Joe Biden departs after speaking at North America’s Building Trades Union National Legislative Conference at the Washington Hilton in Washington, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. | Andrew Harnik/AP

Much of that is Biden himself, but it also involves defending democracy, New York City civics teacher Weingarten said. The other side, she exclaimed, “wants to create fear” so “you’ll go hide under a rock.” That includes not just DeSantis, but Trump.

Need to use “specialness”

“We need to use our specialness that we have” in that pro-democracy cause, Weingarten added. “We are the only multi-generational and multi-racial movement and this is our time.”

And CBTU President Terry Melvin, opening the convention, gave the Biden-Harris ticket a whole-hearted endorsement, and delegates interviewed agreed. “Let’s not fix what’s not broken,” said Georgia AFL-CIO President Yvonne Brooks.

The Machinists have already asked members to register to vote on who the union should support next year. Voting in that balloting “ensures IAM’s endorsement represents the will of the membership,” President Robert Martinez says. The votes can be for a candidate of any political party, he adds.

Those tallies will then produce a list of “the top vote-getting candidates” for the union’s state council presidents to pick from, Martinez explains. The winner must be “committed to fighting for the interests of our members.”

Key issues Machinists members should consider include which hopefuls support enactment, among other things, of the Protect The Right To Organize Act, protecting retirement security, curbing prescription drug costs and health care costs in general, and, in the Machinists’ case, funding for defense and transportation programs.

A pre-primary AFL-CIO endorsement is not unusual. One occurred at the 1999 federation convention when delegates backed Vice President Al Gore over Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J.

Federation leaders later switched the convention cycle so the AFL-CIO’s confab would be held the year after every presidential election, leaving the endorsement in the hands of the federation’s General Board, but with a supermajority requirement.

And in every presidential election cycle, unions have jumped ahead of the federation with endorsements.

The Fire Fighters, for example, waved yellow-and-black “Run, Joe, Run!” signs when Biden, then considering whether to try for the White House, addressed their legislative conference.

Eight years ago, AFT caught flack for acting too fast.

Weingarten announced at its Teach conference in 2015 the union’s board already endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the presidency. It polled a scientifically selected sample of its members but didn’t survey all of them. The substantial section of AFT who supported leading challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., objected strongly, and the union has been more cautious since.

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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.