AFL-CIO to formally endorse Biden-Harris ticket
President Joe Biden stands with Elizabeth Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, after addressing the AFL-CIO convention on June 14, 2022, in Philadelphia. | Susan Walsh/AP

PHILADELPHIA—In a foregone conclusion, the AFL-CIO will formally endorse Democratic President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for re-election in 2024.

The decision, to be announced on June 17 in Philadelphia’s Convention Center—site of the federation’s convention a year ago–was telegraphed in speeches last month by the presidents of its two largest unions, the Teachers’ (AFT) Randi Weingarten and AFSCME’s Lee Saunders.

Their speeches joined a full-throated endorsement  by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists President Terry Melvin, at its convention in New Orleans in May. He urged delegates to begin working for their re-election now.

The AFT Executive Council followed with its own formal endorsement on May 31, after polling and discussions with hundreds of thousands of its members. Of the Democrats, 92% backed Biden-Harris for another term.

“Working people, across race and place, know it makes a massive difference when we elect leaders who have our backs. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have built the most pro-union administration in modern history,” the AFL-CIO said in announcing the Philadelphia event. The three-hour convocation will feature rank-and-file unionists alongside federation President Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond and other leaders.

The Biden-Harris pro-worker record is “grounded in rebuilding the middle class, investing in infrastructure, prioritizing essential workers, supporting public school students and educators, and strengthening workers’ voices in their workplaces and our democracy,” the federation declares.

The endorsement was a fait accompli despite several major disappointments during Biden’s two-and-a-half years in the Oval Office. All but one of those big setbacks came at the hands of either Republican filibuster threats in the then-50-50 Senate or from Republican ideologues in judicial robes.

The biggest was failure to get the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act, labor’s #1 legislative priority, through the Senate and to Biden’s desk, though he and his staff lobbied for it. The law, the most pro-labor legislation since 1935, fell victim to the filibuster threat, and to renegade Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, now Ind-Ariz.

Manchin, beholden to fossil fuel campaign contributions, announced his support for the PRO Act at the same press conference where, with Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts by his side, the senator said he would vote to keep the filibuster, not kill it. Sinema never disclosed her position.

Manchin also sabotaged a second big Biden anti-coronavirus measure, the Build Back Better Act, which would have repaired many holes in the nation’s frayed safety net. But the senator later relented and let some of the BBB pass, including billions of dollars for clean energy projects which union workers are building, mandated by the law.

Republican-named judges killed pro-worker Biden administration rules, including ones to protect workers and the public against the coronavirus. Biden’s sole prominent “self-inflicted wound,” so to speak, was when Congress passed, at his demand, legislation heading off a forced Nov. 9, 2022, railroad strike by imposing a new contract on 115,000 freight rail workers and their 14 unions.

But there is a lot more positive, including explicit, public and frequent Biden endorsement of union organizing drives. Shuler and Redmond sound the same themes in recapping their first full year in office.

Vice President Kamala Harris is very popular with most AFL-CIO unions and has broad support among working people and their allies across the country. Right wingers have targeted her with racist attacks and fear that if anything makes Biden unable to complete his term she would be the first woman and the second African American to serve as president. | Evan Vucci/AP

“The federation played a critical role in advocating with our affiliates for the passage of historic, pro-worker legislation spearheaded by the Biden administration, including the Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Together, these bills will reshape U.S. construction, manufacturing and supply chains,” the two say.

The Biden-Harris measures unions campaigned for “ensure these new investments create millions of good, family-sustaining union jobs in manufacturing, technology and clean energy.” AFT’s Executive Council lauded Biden’s, Harris’s and labor’s economic accomplishments, too.

But consistent with the warning Weingarten sounded even before the Jan. 6, 2021 Trumpite invasion and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it declared their re-election is absolutely vital to preserve, protect and defend U.S. democracy.

The same Radical Right that censors teachers in U.S. schools and bans books that violate its “values” also violates the U.S. Constitution, AFT said. The administration is a bulwark against that.

“Biden and Harris understand democracy is under threat both in the U.S. and abroad and have taken steps to protect the right to vote and fight political extremism by holding accountable those who engage in political violence and addressing the root causes of division and hate, including economic insecurity, disinformation and mental health issues,” AFT declared.

The administration also fights injustice and protects U.S. rights and freedoms, the AFT endorsement says. That includes fighting for reproductive rights, “advancing equity and racial justice, protecting LGBTQIA+ marriages, signing bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation and appointing a record number of federal judges with diverse backgrounds, including the first Black female justice to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson.”

The union didn’t neglect economics and jobs, either, lauding Biden’s measures to battle the coronavirus pandemic, especially pumping money into workers’ pockets. The Democratic duo “demonstrated over and over that the labor movement and an economic policy that is rooted in work, not wealth, that welcomes unions, and that leaves no one behind, is the pathway to the middle class and shared prosperity.”

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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.