Ahead of Philadelphia visit, labor vows ‘largest ever’ 2024 ground game for Biden, Harris

‘Pennsylvania is a critical state in presidential politics. And we wanted to be someplace that really speaks to what the labor movement is all about,’ an AFL-CIO spokesperson said

By: - June 16, 2023 7:40 pm

President Joe Biden delivers a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park on Sept. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As President Joe Biden revs up his 2024 re-election campaign, labor leaders say they’re preparing their “largest campaign ever” to engage the working-class voters who will be key to helping Democrats hold onto the White House in a high-stakes year.

On Friday, in an early show of confidence, the general board of the AFL-CIO voted to endorse Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a move that labor leaders described as the “earliest ever” such vote.

The AFL-CIO represents 60 unions and more than 12.5 million workers nationwide, and the endorsement will “[trigger] an unprecedented mobilization that will engage millions of working people over the course of nearly 17 months on the Biden–Harris record of transforming the economy to one that works for all,” the labor federation said in a statement.

The vote came ahead of a scheduled visit by Biden and Harris to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, where they will rally with labor leaders and union members at an event at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The event will include labor unions typically not a part of of the labor federation’s traditional coalition, including carpenters and members of the Service Employees International Union, Ray Zaccaro, the AFL-CIO’s public affairs director, told the Capital-Star.

“This is a moment where forces across the labor spectrum are joining [together] because they care about the stakes,” Zaccaro said.

The choice of Philadelphia as a venue for the event also was a deliberate one. Pennsylvania put Biden into the White House in 2020. The Democratic president has well-known roots in the state. And Philadelphia is well-established as a pro-labor town, Zaccaro told the Capital-Star.

“Pennsylvania is a critical state in presidential politics. And we wanted to be someplace that really speaks to what the labor movement is all about,” Zaccaro said.

In a statement, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler attested to Biden’s pro-union bona fides, pointing to the actions the administration has taken over the last three-plus years to help working families.

“We’ve never seen a president more forcefully advocate for workers’ fundamental right to join a union. Now, it’s time to finish the job,” Shuler said. “The largest labor mobilization in history begins today, supercharged by the excitement and enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of union volunteers who will work tirelessly to re-elect a president they know has our backs and will always fight for us.”

In his 2020 election win, Biden clawed back some of the working voters who’d defected to former President Donald Trump in 2020, according to an analysis by the Harvard Business Review.  Biden flipped key battleground states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, that Trump carried in 2016.

The percentage of white working class men who voted Democrat in 2020 rose to 28%, from 23% in 2016, the analysis indicated, while Democratic support among white working class women rose from 34% to 36%, the analysis indicated.

“The Biden–Harris administration has consistently advanced policies that empower workers, created opportunities for everyday people, and promoted the well-being of working families,” Kenneth Cooper, the president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said in a statement. “As a direct result of these efforts, the Biden–Harris administration has overseen robust economic growth, increased worker wages and achieved the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.”

While Trump contends with both legal challenges and an expanding 2024 Republican primary field, labor leaders said they plan to spend the next 17 months running their “largest campaign ever to engage working people one on one on kitchen-table issues and President Biden’s accomplishments. The AFL-CIO’s campaign will be critical in battleground states where the union vote will prove decisive.”

Biden, who has cast himself as the nation’s most pro-union president, has worked steadily since last November’s midterm elections to consolidate his support among working-class voters — particularly among nonwhite working class, voters, where Democratic support has been softer, Ruy Teixeira, of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a January 2023 column for the Washington Post.

In their Friday statement, labor leaders said their outreach efforts, which will combine traditional door-knocking campaigns with “cutting-edge digital outreach, peer-to-peer texting and other tactics,” will “ensure we’re reaching workers on the issues that matter most to them. Hundreds of thousands of union volunteers are the backbone of this mobilization and will begin engaging voters immediately. “

“This is a big moment for the entire labor movement. Joe Biden is the best president for labor in a generation, if not more,” Zaccaro said. “It is not unnoticed that he has been thoughtful throughout his administration about what working people need … It is clear that is a motivating force. He has had our backs. And we have his.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.