Labor Leaders Say Many Members Not Willing to Give Trump Second Vote

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Leaders of labor organizations in the Mahoning Valley say they back Joe Biden for president, even as the campaign of President Donald Trump remains optimistic that blue-collar workers will again back the Republican incumbent in his bid for reelection.

One of the dominant stories of the 2016 campaign was the support that Trump got from blue-collar workers in the traditionally Democratic Mahoning Valley. Trump won Trumbull and narrowly lost Mahoning County to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“The Trump campaign is very comfortable with the support that we’re seeing among Ohio’s workers and the rank-and-file members of the unions,” said Dan Lusheck, Ohio press secretary for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and GOP state parties in several states, including Ohio.

“Every time we’ve come out to the Mahoning Valley, whether that’s the vice president when he visited out there or some of the other surrogates who have visited the Valley during this campaign cycle, we’re seeing a lot of support from the hard-working men and women who agreed with President Trump’s message in 2016,” Lusheck continued. Because Trump kept his promises, he said, the campaign continues to see “historic support.”

Area labor leaders report some of their members who voted for Trump in 2016 aren’t so sure this time around.

“A lot of them are disappointed with promises that have not been kept and a lot of them are wavering about whether he deserves four more years,” said Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council. “A lot of people that gave him a chance the first time around are not going to give him a chance the second time.”

Four years ago, Trump, a real estate developer and television personality, was “an unknown entity as an elected official,” and some people thought a businessman was what the country needed, Padisak said. Now Trump has a track record voters can judge.

“Some people may be impressed with the job he did and some people are not,” he said.

There is no replacement for the Affordable Care Act, as Trump promised, nor has the southern border wall, which was to be paid for by Mexico, then-candidate Trump said, been built. Because of the administration’s trade war with China, the government has paid more than $32 billion in subsidies to farmers.

“There were a lot of promises made that were not kept,” said Marty Loney, business agent for Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 396 and president of the Western Reserve Building Trades Council.

The council doesn’t endorse presidential candidates, but each of its member locals do their own endorsements or to through their internationals, he said.

People wanted a change four years ago, but a lot of the promises that were made weren’t kept, Loney said. Trump talked about preserving jobs in coal and other industries important to the trades, but that hasn’t happened, he noted.

Rocky DiGennaro, business agent for Laborers’ International Union Local 125, is more blunt. “From my members, I’m hearing Trump’s a liar,” he said.

Among the concerns DiGennaro and his members have about Trump is his support for cutting the prevailing wage, which he said would reduce wages by nearly half, 45%.

“We’re backing Biden all the way,” he said. “We’re pretty sure he’s going to win.”

“It’s different now. Donald Trump has a record to run on now,” Tim Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO president.

Burga spoke earlier this week during a virtual mobilization event for the Biden campaign that featured Ohio labor leaders.

“Four years ago, Trump came into Ohio and promised everything to everybody. Our membership and the working people in the state of Ohio have seen the results now and the results have not been good,” Burga said.

Jobs aren’t better or safer, and his handling of the pandemic has made matters worse, he added.

Burga also recalled a February 2017 visit to the White House by union leaders to meet with Trump in an effort to explore potential areas of common ground, including infrastructure construction. The president “failed to deliver on any of those issues,” he said.

Voters in Ohio and especially union members “know what it’s like to be ignored” and “be fed empty promises,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who hosted the virtual event.

Brown characterized the former vice president as “the most pro-worker, pro-union presidential candidate in a generation.” He understands “the importance of a strong middle class” to the country.

“Look what Joe did with the auto industry. Washington bailed out Wall Street. They wanted to let our auto industry collapse,” he said. “Joe refused to write off the workers who built this country. We didn’t save every plant but we saved lots of plants all over the Midwest.”

Biden “was there for us in the darkest days of the auto crisis,” said Wayne Blanchard, Region 2-B director for the United Auto Workers.

“It was under his watch that UAW jobs were protected at the most vulnerable time after the economic collapse. He had our backs then and he will have them now,” Blanchard said.

As the automotive industry transitions to electric vehicles, Biden will protect the jobs of those making gas and diesel-fueled vehicles and work to ensure that the new jobs created are quality union jobs, he said.

Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic also is an issue among labor.

“He’s been wishing it away from the outset,” Burga said.

One issue cited by local labor leaders during Wednesday’s virtual event is Trump’s widely reported remarks at a July 2017 rally in Youngstown urging residents not to sell their houses because manufacturing jobs were coming back to the Mahoning Valley. General Motors announced the following year that it would cease production at its Lordstown plant, which at one point employed more than 10,000 workers.

Labor union members remember when Trump came to places like Toledo and Lordstown and “promised everybody how all these jobs are going to come flooding back,” Burga said. “He simply has failed to deliver.”

Trump spokesman Lusheck maintains Lordstown’s story is one of “failed Democrat leadership” by Brown, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and others whose policies failed Ohio’s workers.

Biden cast an “absolutely indefensible” vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement and shipped jobs to China, he said.

“It was really terrible for the American worker,” he said. “Thanks to President Trump’s agenda, because he was able to keep his promises to the people of this region, now we’re seeing historic new investments in Lordstown, whether that be Lordstown Motors, which the vice president visited earlier this year, [Ultium Cells] or other new investments.”

A portion of Trump’s support comes from workers who are hunters, fishermen and outdoorsmen, said the Building Trades Council’s Loney.

“It always comes back to them saying, ‘We want to protect our gun rights,’ ” he said. “Nobody has ever taken away any gun unless they have done something that was wrong.”

Given the restrictions of the pandemic, voter engagement and mobilization is far different this election, labor leaders acknowledged.

Many traditional activities, such as attending events to support candidates, are on hold. In the lead up to Tuesday’s election, members of the building trades are participating in literature drops and phone banks “to talk about what issues are important to working people in the Valley,” Loney said.

Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO is running phone, peer-to-peer texting and mail campaigns, Padisak said.

“Unions found out a long time ago people don’t want to be told how to vote,” he said. Instead, they are provided information on where candidates stand on various issues important to labor in the hope that they “vote in a way that will support unions.”

Images: President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) and former Vice President Joe Biden (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik).

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.