Some union members are going against the grain this presidential election year and backing President Donald Trump for reelection, despite the expressed intentions of leadership; in evidence, for example, on a NYC Building Trades worksite. “All the workers here are for Trump,” an ironworker source told InsiderNJ, speaking on his break.
It’s an old divide in labor, public sector and private sector, one former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie exploited as he strove to mollify and even reward the Building Trades while antagonizing teachers and other public sector workers.
Trump has the same fault line to work with, even as labor brass desperately try to shore up support for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrializations (AFL-COI) brings all unions under one tent. They speak on political issues and policy and exist to help be the voice of the working man. Typically, member unions may echo the point of view of the national office in Washington, but that is not always the case.
“My local does a very unique thing that no other does in New Jersey, they send out questionnaires to all members saying, ‘In this election which candidate would you tend to most vote for?’” said Christian Barranco, president of Square Deal for New Jersey, a social-media oriented blog-like PAC . “Overwhelmingly, our membership will be voting for Donald Trump.”
Barranco says his local does not always echo the sentiments of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrializations (AFL-COI).
“For eight years we thought Obama was going to make [work] happen, for eight years we waited and it never came,” Barranco explains, “Trump creates work and we only make money when there is work.”
President of AFL-CIO Richard Trumka released a press statement endorsing Biden for president.
“Joe Biden is a lifelong supporter of workers and has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights,” Trumka said. “Our members know Joe has done everything he could to create a fairer process for forming and joining a union, and he is ready to fight with us to restore faith in America and improve the lives of all working people.”
Even though Biden picked up a key endorsement last week when he landed the backing of the Pennsylvania Building Trades Council in a battleground state, Barranco maintains that private-sector trade unions, like the one he is a member of, do not benefit from growing bureaucracy and more from growing private-sectors.
“AFL-CIO tends to support the Democratic party and, in many ways, the Democratic party in the United States has become the party of the bureaucracy, the party for those who work for the government,” Barranco said.
Some teachers in New Jersey have contrasting opinions regarding this election and many – if not most – unions are standing with the state and national union endorsements of Joe Biden.
Mary Wallace, President of Montclair State University Federation of Adjunct Faculty, expressed that her local union has suffered big setbacks with a Republican Congress, namely the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) ruling.
In a 5-4 ruling, Oyez published that the Supreme Court of the U.S. concluded in Janus v. AFSCME that the practice of states and public-sector unions collecting agency fees from non-member employees was a violation of the First Amendment and that no further agency fees were to be collected or attempted to be collected from employees without their consent.
“People who are not [union] members have to pay what is called an agency fee,” Wallace explains, “That agency fee was basically a fee to defray the cost of whatever we have done for non-members as well as members. In the past there was a law that a certain portion of the dues had to be paid to the union because we would represent [members and non-members]; That was struck down by our Republican Supreme Court.”
President of American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten announced the delegates choice to endorse Biden in a press release.
“[Joe Biden] shares our values, has the support of our membership and is the leader we need in this unprecedented time,” Weingarten said. “We will do everything we can to get out the vote in November.”
According to PBS, exit polls from the 2016 presidential election showed a larger portion of union households voted for Trump compared to any president since Ronald Reagan. Barranco has felt an overwhelming shift in the past years of how the Republican party is viewed by organized labor.
“The Republican party in New Jersey is very gracious toward trade unionists; they are very good to us, and it boils down to the economy,” Barranco said. “The Democratic Party is interested in supporting the public sector economy, tax revenue. The Republican Party is interested in the private sector economy, the one we serve.”
Not only will Barranco’s local be voting to reelect Trump, but in attempt to cohere labor behind the GOP, they have endorsed Rosemary Becchi, despite endorsing Congresswoman Mikie Sherril two years ago.
“We are dads, hunters, workers, very conservative people,” Barranco said. “The Democratic Party has been headed in some direction for some time now; they needed to bring some things back to the center but instead they have doubled down. We almost across the board are behind every Republican candidate.”
He’s on an island here, however, as the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) PAC, an arm of one of the biggest and most powerful labor organizations in the state, backs Sherrill. And for her part, Wallace stated that her local will be following the Democratic endorsements of the New Jersey AFT regarding congressional elections.
“We usually endorse people who are labor friendly, they are not necessarily Democrat or Republican,” Wallace said. “It’s all a very difficult situation and a difficult time but ultimately every person goes into the ballot box and votes his or her conscience.”
The conscience of Building Trades workers on the ground may express itself somewhat differently, at least if the worksite buzz and Barranco are to be believed.