“Let me say this,” asserted Leo Gerard, president of the steelworkers union. “Donald Trump was able to see the steelworker agenda. What he did is what we’ve been fighting for for more than 30 years. And I think what happened is that he’s going to have a major impact on our members. It’s going to make it very hard for our members to ignore what he just did and what makes me sad is we’ve been trying to get Democrats to do this for more than 30 years.”
AFL-CIO President Trumka insists that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin will give their electoral votes to Biden. He says that his members, which in 2016 swung all three states to Trump, will swing them to Biden–Harris in 2020.
That isn’t the kind of sentiment one typically hears for a Republican president from the United Steelworkers (USW) president. And yet, there it was. High praise. High praise indeed. Gerard held forth in a March 2018 interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, who was taken aback by these encomiums for Trump from a union chief. Todd no doubt ached to dispel such flights of fancy from such a redoubtable corner of the Democratic Party base. But this was no flight of fancy. Gerard knew. His members knew. They knew what this Republican president, Donald J. Trump, had done for them.
“All we’re asking for is a level playing field,” Gerard continued, “and what the president has done is send a signal that he’s going to help us get a level playing field. And we gave the Republicans and we gave the Democrats — we’ve given every government since before Clinton hope that they would do something.”
Trump did something.
Gerard enthusiastically praised Trump’s tariffs for their impact on the U.S. steel market. Gerard (who retired in July 2019) said Trump was finally helping steelworkers get a level playing field after decades of failed promises from Democrat and Republican presidents alike. He thanked Trump for tackling trade deficits, which he called a “wealth transfer” that was “taking good jobs away.”
Yes, yes, and yes.
So why in the world is the steelworkers union not supporting Donald Trump in 2020? Yep, you heard that right. In fact, why has the union gone bat-crazy for his opponent, Joe Biden?
“Bat” is a choice word here. The steelworkers union is not merely stumping for Biden–Harris; it has launched a bright, bold “batlight campaign” literally illuminating landmarks here in Pittsburgh with massive “VOTE BIDEN–HARRIS” images. The beaming nighttime displays were splashed upon the University of Pittsburgh’s venerable Cathedral of Learning (the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere), the Gulf Tower, the Carnegie Science Center, and, among other spots, the entire side of the city’s historic Mt. Washington.
USW spokeswoman Jess Kamm Broomell said union officials launched the “batlight campaign” as an alternative tool in an election where the opportunity for door-to-door campaigning has been hamstrung by COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing.
Well, to paraphrase Robin, holy bat nonsense, Batman!
The union is aglow for Biden–Harris. It’s lighting up the Steel City for Joe and Kamala. Yep, the USW brass is urging members to vote Biden, not Trump.
For the record, the targets of USW political spotlights were not pleased. These “batlight” images were unauthorized. University of Pittsburgh officials immediately denounced the political manipulation of their iconic building, issuing a statement saying that “an outside party — acting without the University of Pittsburgh’s prior knowledge or permission — projected an image onto the Cathedral of Learning’s exterior. Once alerted of this incident, Pitt Police ordered that the image be removed.” The political stunt occurred without permission.
It was an outrageous spectacle. And put aside the sheer obnoxiousness for a moment. The display begs the question: Why is the steelworkers union lighting up for Biden–Harris?
Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, there’s no denying the man’s remarkable attempt to transform the GOP into a party for blue-collar workers, for hard-hats, for union guys. Good grief, look at how he has taken on China for tariffs, renegotiated NAFTA, fought for manufacturing and fracking, battled against environmentalists, the Green New Deal, and regulations. The typical union guy loves Trump.
Not unusual is a display I drive by every day — a garage draped with a huge sign, “BUY AMERICAN HIRE AMERICAN VOTE TRUMP.” Thirty years ago, that sign would have urged, “BUY AMERICAN HIRE AMERICAN VOTE DEMOCRAT.” Not anymore.
And look again at Leo Gerard’s assessment at the start of this article. Are Trump’s unprecedented good deeds for the steelworkers suddenly forgotten? How could steelworkers not embrace Trump in 2020? At the least, why would their union act in such a shamelessly partisan way — brazenly illuminating Pittsburgh landmarks for political purposes without authorization — for Trump’s opponent? Mind you, I know why public-sector unions are for Biden–Harris, from teachers unions to AFSCME to SIEU, but the steelworkers?
The answer isn’t rocket science, albeit flagrantly political. This is yet another example of the union leadership (not the membership) reflexively endorsing the Democrat ticket merely because that’s what it does: endorses Democrats. As for rank-and-file guys, you can be sure they don’t like it.
“Not only does labor union leadership reflexively endorse Democrats,” an observer in Harrisburg told me, “but Joe Biden in particular is an old-time labor union type pol and has 47 years of ties to organized labor. And besides, there is a disconnect between union leadership and union membership.”
Another source (from here in western Pennsylvania, who insisted I not share his name) told me, “Union brass and rank-and-file often have a touchy relationship. And union leaders are absolute cannibals in their skimming of union funds…. Workers are afraid to speak up.”
At a still deeper level is the matter of what Joe Biden is offering union chieftains. Biden is promising to expand Big Labor’s compulsory-unionism privileges to an unprecedented extent. Biden told Teamster bosses in Las Vegas, “We should change the federal law [so] that there is no Right to Work allowed anywhere in the country.”
That’s a remarkable overture that has union bosses salivating.
As noted by the National Right to Work Committee: “For the first time in decades, the Democrat presidential ticket is running unabashedly on a platform of barring Right to Work protections for employees in all 50 states.”
No question. It surely greatly frustrates Donald Trump that he fought so hard for the steel industry only to see union cronies revert to politics as usual. But that’s exactly what has happened. Here in western Pennsylvania, we’ve long spoken of the “union mentality.” This is a union-boss mentality.
A brash example of that mentality is one Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, and an unwavering partisan for Democrats.
“[Trump] is the most anti-union president we’ve seen in decades,” Trumka fumes, ridiculously. “We have fewer manufacturing jobs…. Fewer mining jobs…. We know that all the promises he made on infrastructure never came about.” Trumka says that his members understand that Trump “wasn’t what he said he was. He hasn’t lived up to his hype. His rhetoric doesn’t match.”
In an interview with John Gizzi of Newsmax, Trumka laid out how his guys are mobilizing to take down Trump: “We’re doing town hall meetings, we’re doing more contact with the locals, we’re still doing phonebankings and things of that sort. We won’t do as much door-knocking, because of COVID. So we’ll do a number of social media, we’ll be texting, we’re encouraging people to vote early and vote by mail.”
Trumka wants people to vote early: “we’ll try to track them and try to convert them into being volunteer workers on Election Day. So we can keep as many voting sites open as possible.” Trumka says his guys are flocking to polling places “because it’s obvious what Donald Trump’s strategy is. It’s to tamp down the voting.”
Trumka insists that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin will give their electoral votes to Biden. He says that his members, which in 2016 swung all three states to Trump, will swing them to Biden–Harris in 2020.
And then Biden–Harris could stroll into the White House and crack down on fracking — eh, Mr. Trumka? Boy, that would be great for manufacturing jobs!
“There’s no question, I’m in favor of banning fracking,” said Kamala Harris to wild applause from liberals in a CNN presidential townhall on climate change, favoring a shutdown of an industry providing countless thousands of jobs to Pennsylvania and millions nationwide.
What matters foremost to union leaders, however, is whether you have a D or an R next to your name.
Richard Trumka is a classic example of union leaders’ loyalty to Democrats. A friend of mine observed him at the State of the Union address several years ago during the Obama administration: “I saw Trumka wandering around, poking into different sections of the gallery, taking tabs on who was there…. Security is amazingly tight at SOTU, yet he was allowed to wander around.”
He’s a VIP among Democrats — a member of the family. That’s an image of just how much union leaders remain in the graces of the Democratic Party, and vice versa. Just as they set Pittsburgh landmarks aglow for Biden–Harris, their hearts remain aglow for whomever the Democrats nominate. If ever there was a year where that’s unmistakably clear, it’s 2020. The unions like to claim that Republicans don’t do anything for them. Well, now a Republican president has done big things for them, and they campaign for his opponent. Maybe Republicans should remember the ingratitude. Trump continues to fight for them anyway.
Donald Trump is one Republican president whom unions should go to bat for; instead, union-bosses remain bat-crazy for Democrats.