Trump will meet with the Teamsters in Washington as he tries to cut into Biden’s union support
Jan 30, 2024, 10:04 PM
(AP Photo/John Locher, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — As he looks past the GOP primary and towards a likely general election rematch against President Joe Biden, Donald Trump will meet with members of the Teamsters Union in Washington Wednesday afternoon as he tries to cut into Biden’s support.
The former president will participate in a roundtable with the group’s executive board, its president and rank-and-file members as he targets the blue-collar workers who fueled his 2016 victory and who are expected to play a major role in November, particularly in critical Midwestern swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan.
Union voters tend to vote Democratic, with 56% of members and households backing Biden in 2020, according to AP VoteCast. And Biden has already received significant organized labor backing with early endorsements from the AFL-CIO and others. Trump is hoping to cut into that support as he casts himself as pro-worker and tries to exacerbate longstanding divisions between union leaders and rank-and-file members.
On Sunday, he called on members of the United Auto Workers to oust their president, Shawn Fain, after the group endorsed Biden.
“Shawn Fain doesn’t understand this or have a clue,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social network. “Get rid of this dope & vote for DJT. I will bring the Automobile Industry back to our Country.”
Among the topics planned for discussion Wednesday are the shrinking middle class, workers’ wages, antitrust and bankruptcy issues, as well as union rights.
“Our members want to hear from all candidates of all parties about what they plan to do for working people as President,” Teamsters president Sean O’Brien said in a statement. “Our union wants every candidate to know that there are 1.3 million Teamsters nationwide whose votes will not be taken for granted. Workers’ voices must be heard.”
Biden has long billed himself as the most labor-friendly president in history, and went so far as to turn up on a picket line in the Detroit area during a strike last fall. He was also invited for his own session Wednesday. Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said Biden “looks forward to meeting with the Teamsters and earning their endorsement,” but the timing remained “TBA.”
Earlier this month, O’Brien met privately with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club, where the two discussed issues including right-to-work laws that allow those in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying dues and fees. They also posed for a side-by-side photo, both flashing thumbs-up signs, that Trump posted online.
In an interview with Fox Business after the meeting, O’Brien said it had gone “fine” as he emphasized the importance of open dialogue.
“We put our cards on the table. It was a very matter-of-fact meeting,” he said. “He claimed he was, you know, 100%… supportive of unions, but history obviously, you take a look back and there’s certain issues that we have with him,” he said.
During Trump’s presidency, the National Labor Relations Board reversed several key rulings that made it easier for small unions to organize, strengthened the bargaining rights of franchise workers and provided protection against anti-union measures for employees.
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority — including three justices that Trump nominated — overturned a decades-old pro-union decision in 2018 involving fees paid by government workers. The justices in 2021 rejected a California regulation giving unions access to farm property so they could organize workers.
While the Teamsters endorsed Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, O’Brien stressed the union has “a very diverse membership. And our members vote.”
Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University, said that in the past unions almost automatically endorsed Democratic candidates. But this year, he said, unions like the Teamsters have required candidates to outline their positions and show how they will support rank-and-file workers to earn their backing.
The message to candidates: “If you don’t help labor and you don’t help my position, you’re not going to get my endorsement,” Wheaton said.
The Teamsters’ meeting with Trump also reflects the reality that a significant portion of the union’s membership supports the former president. Wheaton estimates about 30% to 40% of its members voted for Trump in 2020, even though the union endorsed Biden.
“You need to do your due diligence and listen, and let them have the option and ability to say what they want,” said Wheaton.
In September, Trump traveled to Michigan while his Republican rivals held a debate and tried to win over autoworkers by lambasting Biden’s electric vehicles push in the midst of a strike. During his speech, Trump urged the UAW to endorse him, directly appealing to Fain from the floor of a non-unionized auto parts plant.
Fain instead called Trump a “scab,” a derogatory term for workers who cross union picket lines and work during a strike, as he endorsed Biden.
“This November we can stand up and elect someone who stands with us and supports our cause, or we can elect someone who will divide us and fight us every step of the way,” he said.
Teamsters members include UPS drivers, film and television workers, freight operators, members of law enforcement and other government workers.
Biden already has the backing of the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which rolled out their endorsements together last June. While overall union membership rates nationwide fell to another all-time low in 2023, the country’s largest unions have nonetheless built sprawling get-out-the-vote efforts, which Biden is counting on to help turn out his supporters in pivotal swing states.
The campaign of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining GOP rival, did not respond to a request for comment about whether she intends to meet with the group.
Krisher reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.