Biden Again Has Union Support. But the Unions Look Different This Time. (2024)


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At a rally on Saturday hosted by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., President Biden enjoyed a warm reception. But changes in union membership mean that he still has work to do.

Biden Again Has Union Support. But the Unions Look Different This Time. (1)

By Reid J. Epstein

Reporting from Philadelphia

The public image of President Biden’s “Union Joe” persona rests largely on his longtime affiliations with labor unions representing police officers, firefighters and building-trade workers.

But the modern labor movement that gathered on Saturday in Philadelphia to endorse Mr. Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign is younger and more diverse, and has far more women than the union stereotype Mr. Biden has embraced during the decades he has spent building his political identity.

“You think about it as the dude with a cigar, and it’s just not that,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “I’m sure there’s still dudes with cigars, but there’s lots and lots and lots of other people in a multigenerational, multiracial cacophony of people that are unified by a zealous fight for a better life.”

While today’s labor movement is demographically more in line with the Democratic Party, increasing the share of young people and people of color means that union members may be less familiar with — and more skeptical about — Mr. Biden’s record.

Mr. Biden’s campaign and the labor leaders who endorsed it — the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and 17 other unions — celebrated the early backing as a triumph of labor unity for the president. The president appeared before a supportive and energetic audience of about 2,000 union members in Philadelphia, the first rally of his re-election campaign since it started in April.

“I’m the most pro-union president in American history,” Mr. Biden told the cheering crowd on Saturday, echoing a vow he made during his 2020 campaign. Predicting another victory in 2024, he added: “What I’m really proud about is being re-elected the most pro-union president in history.”

The endorsem*nts reflect Mr. Biden’s popularity among the unions’ leaders, but large segments of the union membership do not associate him with the union-friendly legislation he has signed into law.

“There is a disconnect between all the Biden-Harris accomplishments and what information is landing on the ground in communities,” said Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “It is such an inside-the-Beltway thing to do to talk about policies and talk about legislation and regulations. It’s up to us to decode that and connect the dots back to what is happening in Washington.”

Upon entering office, Mr. Biden pledged to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” and he has largely delivered on that promise.


During the Philadelphia union rally — officially hosted by the A.F.L.-C.I.O. but with all the trappings of a Biden campaign event — Mr. Biden ticked through his pro-union accomplishments. Along with the climate, infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing bills he signed that incentivize companies that employ unionized workers, Mr. Biden cited the Butch Lewis Act, which restored the pensions of more than one million people whose retirement benefits had been severely reduced because of underfunded multi-employer pension plans.

“That was a big deal,” Mr. Biden said. “It was one of the most significant achievements for union workers and retirees in 50 years.”

The Biden administration has made clear that it stands with unionized workers. Jill Biden, the first lady, wore the blue T-shirt of the National Education Association on Saturday. Last weekend, Mr. Biden’s education secretary, Miguel Cardona, refused to cross a picket line to give a commencement address at the University of Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris canceled an MTV appearance after Hollywood writers went on strike.

Last month, workers at a school bus factory in Georgia won the first significant organizing election at a facility receiving major federal funding under legislation signed by Mr. Biden.

The president has also been far more vocal than his Democratic predecessors in encouraging union organizing. Last year, Mr. Biden welcomed to the White House the millennial Amazon and Starbucks organizers who had unionized parts of those companies.

Before he was president, Mr. Biden was a regular at Labor Day parades — especially in Pittsburgh, home of the largely male and white steelworker unions that built much of western Pennsylvania, and where he kicked off his 2020 campaign.

That run followed a defection of large numbers of union workers to Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign, which had reoriented the Republican Party in opposition to international free trade accords championed by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

That helped Mr. Trump shave off traditionally Democratic union voters. When Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election, she won just 51 percent of votes from union households, while Mr. Trump won by huge margins among white working class voters, according to exit polls at the time. Four years later, Mr. Biden took 56 percent of votes from union households, and union voters made up a slightly larger share of the electorate.

“The labor movement is changing, no question. We are having a younger and more diverse work force,” said Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We are seeing a revitalization among young people and people of color who see that they’re being mistreated and they don’t have a true seat at the table.”


Martin J. Walsh, Mr. Biden’s first labor secretary who is now the executive director of the pro hockey players’ union, said the early endorsem*nts from organized labor were clear attempts to give union leaders more time to press Mr. Biden’s case to their members.

“Having so many unions coming out so early in the process tells you that the unions are solidifying their membership early and working their members early, so they don’t have a repeat of what happened in 2016,” Mr. Walsh said.

Among the youngest labor leaders is Roland Rexha, the secretary-treasurer of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, which represents maritime workers including employees of the Staten Island Ferry. Mr. Rexha, who at 41 is the youngest member and the only Muslim on the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive council, said it can be difficult to sell Mr. Biden to a group that was about three-quarters white men — a group with whom Mr. Trump has drawn majority support.

“Most labor unions do a good job of trying to explain to the members why they need to support the people that support them,” Mr. Rexha said. “It’s something that as leadership, we have had a hard time sometimes relaying to them.”

The broad union endorsem*nts for Mr. Biden Saturday mask some discontent for the president among organized labor. The United Auto Workers has withheld an endorsem*nt over concerns about the electric vehicle transition the White House has championed. There was significant grumbling among labor groups that on the day Mr. Biden launched his campaign, he spoke to the building trades union — a group whose members are seen within the labor world as less reliably Democratic.

And then there is the fact that Mr. Biden’s much-touted infrastructure legislation will largely benefit construction workers — a group far more likely to be male and to vote Republican than the rest of the organized labor universe.

“There is some real progress, ironically, for construction workers, probably half of whom voted for Trump twice,” said Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America who has long been an adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“The messaging is as good as it’s ever been in 50 years or more, but there needs to be results.”

A correction was made on

June 17, 2023


Because of an editing error, an earlier version of the summary with this article misstated that President Biden’s stance on organized labor had been crucial to his 2024 victory. It was important for his 2020 victory.

How we handle corrections

Reid J. Epstein covers campaigns and elections from Washington. Before joining The Times in 2019, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Newsday and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Biden Again Has Union Support. But the Unions Look Different This Time. (2024)


How long is the State of the Union address 2023? ›

2023 State of the Union Address
President Joe Biden delivering the address to the Congress of the United States
DateFebruary 7, 2023
Duration1 hour, 13 minutes
VenueHouse Chamber, United States Capitol
LocationWashington, D.C.
6 more rows

What did Biden do for the unions? ›

At the same time, Biden has issued a spate of union-friendly executive orders. In April 2021, he signed one creating a task force committed to studying how the federal government could act unilaterally to expand workers' right to join a union.

What percentage of American workers are union members? ›

These figures are nearly the same as last year. The share of U.S. workers who belong to a union has fallen since 1983, when 20.1% of American workers were union members. In 2022, 10.1% of U.S. workers were in a union.

What is the largest labor union in the United States? ›

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) is the largest federation of unions in the United States. It is made up of 60 national and international unions, together representing more than 12 million active and retired workers.

What are the main points of the 2023 State of the Union address? ›

The President also discussed the progress made in job creation and the importance of shoring up the economy, European aid, American manufacturing and national infrastructure projects, reducing health care costs, climate change, immigration, public safety and police reform, remediating the tax system, and more.

How long is the State of the Union address going to last? ›

Length of State of the Union Addresses in Minutes (from 1964)
average (ex. 2021)TBD
April 28, 2021spoken1:05:08
March 1, 2022spoken1:01:50
February 7, 2023spoken1:13:00
68 more rows

Who benefits from unions? ›

Unions help reduce wage gaps for women workers and workers of color. Union members have better job safety protections and better paid leave than non-union workers, and are more secure exercising their rights in the workplace.

Who is the most pro union president? ›

After President Joe Biden announced he's running for reelection, AFSCME President Lee Saunders released the following statement today: “President Joe Biden is the most pro-union, pro-worker president of our lifetimes — hands down, no contest.

What are 3 things unions fight for? ›

A labor union is a group of two or more employees who join together to advance common interests such as wages, benefits, schedules and other employment terms and conditions.

What union pays the most? ›

High Paying Union Jobs
  • Union Construction. Salary range: $75,500-$120,000 per year. ...
  • Operating Engineer Union. Salary range: $58,500-$108,000 per year. ...
  • Union Plumber. Salary range: $50,500-$85,500 per year. ...
  • Ibew Electrical Union. ...
  • Union Tower Climber. ...
  • Union Cdl Driver. ...
  • Union Masonry. ...
  • Union Cannabis.

Which state has the most unions? ›

Among states, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (21.9 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina had the lowest (1.7 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively). (See table 5.)

What country has the highest percentage of unionized workers? ›


Which states do not allow unions? ›

The states that have laws against union membership as a condition of employment are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, ...

What is the best union to join? ›

If a career as part of a labor union excites you, consider some of the best union jobs out there:
  1. School bus driver. National average salary : $16.48 per hour. ...
  2. Carpenter. National average salary: $20.67 per hour. ...
  3. Machinist. ...
  4. Electrician. ...
  5. Nuclear power reactor operator. ...
  6. Tractor-trailer truck driver.
Oct 14, 2022

Which union is the fastest-growing union in the US? ›

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is the fastest-growing labor union in North America. With 1.9 million members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, SEIU focuses on uniting workers in the service sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide.

What are junk fees? ›

If you've ever purchased a product or service and the final price was significantly higher than what was advertised up front, you were likely hit with what's often referred to as a “junk fee.” In banking, charges such as account maintenance fees, ATM fees or overdraft fees are also commonly referred to as junk fees.

Who all goes to the State of the Union address? ›

Every member of Congress can bring one guest to the State of the Union address. The president may invite up to 24 guests to be seated in a box with the First Lady. The speaker of the House may invite up to 24 guests in the speaker's box.

What is the point of State of the Union? ›

The State of the Union Message is a message from the President to Congress, usually given once a year in January or February. In the message, the President talks about important issues facing Americans and offers his ideas on solving the nation's problems, including suggestions for new laws and policies.

Who was the shortest president? ›

The tallest U.S. president was Abraham Lincoln at 6 feet 4 inches (193 centimeters), while the shortest was James Madison at 5 feet 4 inches (163 centimeters). Joe Biden, the current president, is 6 feet 0 inches (183 centimeters) according to a physical examination summary from February 2023.

Which president gave the shortest State of the Union address? ›

In this first Address, Washington created the example of what would become expected of presidents after him. Even at the time, issues such as his choice of clothing, who was standing beside him, and the way he gave his message were discussed. It remains, at 1,089 words, the shortest State of the Union Address.

Who is the guest at the State of the Union in 2023? ›

The White House Announces Guest List for the First Lady's Box for the 2023 State of the Union Address. WASHINGTON, D.C. – First Lady Jill Biden will welcome guests to join her in the viewing box for President Biden's State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 7, 2023.

Why do workers not want unions? ›

Restrictive union rules will result in a lack of flexibility or competitiveness.” “Unionizing raises the prospect of layoffs or closure.” “It's possible that contract negotiations could make terms of employment worse than they are now.” “Unionizing means you would have to go on strike.”

What are the negatives of unions? ›

Labor unions charge dues to pay the salaries of union leaders and workers during a strike. And unfortunately, some unions spend union dues on six-figure salaries for leaders and luxurious headquarters. Other drawbacks of labor union membership include less autonomy, workplace tension, and slower advancement.

Why do union workers get paid more? ›

1. More productive employees earn higher wages - Unions claim they can negotiate higher pay for employees. In reality, higher pay rates are due to the fact that employers in unionized companies are often more selective in the hiring process, needing to hire more productive and higher quality workers.

How did unions start in America? ›

Unions began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution. National labor unions began to form in the post-Civil War Era.

What is the definition of anti union? ›

Anti-Union Information Online

"Union avoidance," "union-busting," and "anti-union" are terms used to refer to activities that inhibit, prevent, or discredit labor union organizing drives, sometimes extending beyond to first-contract or collective bargaining negotiations.

How can I be a good union president? ›

As the spokesperson of the union leadership to the rank-and-file membership, the president should regularly communicate the union's vision, direction and goals. The president must also be a good listener and should seek out the views and ideas of fellow officers as well as those of the membership.

What are five disadvantages of unions? ›

Here are some of the downsides of labor unions.
  • Unions do not provide representation for free. Unions aren't free. ...
  • Unions may pit workers against companies. ...
  • Union decisions may not always align with individual workers' wishes. ...
  • Unions can discourage individuality. ...
  • Unions can cause businesses to have to increase prices.
Feb 12, 2022

Why are companies against unions? ›

The most common reason companies say they oppose labor unions is because they want to have a direct relationship with their employees. It also costs them more money. Research shows that the growth of union jobs correlates to higher wages for the lowest-paid workers.

How do unions make money? ›

As with many other organizations, union costs are paid by member dues that typically cost about $50 a month. Most unions have paid staff to manage their operations. While some staff may be paid by union dues, members also often volunteer.

How can I make $20 an hour? ›

30 jobs that pay $20+ per hour without a degree
  1. Physical therapy assistant. National average salary : $22.35 per hour. ...
  2. Route driver. National average salary: $22.70 per hour. ...
  3. Truck driver. National average salary: $23.32 per hour. ...
  4. Hotel manager. ...
  5. Maintenance mechanic. ...
  6. Solar installer. ...
  7. Medical coder. ...
  8. Carpenter.
Mar 10, 2023

Is $30 an hour good? ›

The average income per individual in the US is $35,384 per year, but the median income in the US is $64,994, which is right around the 30-dollar-an-hour mark. Since 30 dollars an hour is above the average income per individual, it's a livable wage, but it depends on a few factors.

Is $22 an hour good pay? ›

At this $22 hourly wage, you are close to double the minimum wage. Things should be easy to live off this $22 hourly salary or about $45,000 a year. However, it is still below the median income of over $60,000 salary. That means it can still be a tough situation.

What state has the highest paying union jobs? ›

States With the Strongest (and Weakest) Unions
Average Annual Wage
RankStateAll Workers
7 more rows
Aug 31, 2022

Is Starbucks a union? ›

Starbucks Workers United. 315 of the unionized stores, out of the total listed 318. Workers from the Elmwood Avenue Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize in late 2021, making it the only unionized shop among the chain's 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States.

What city has the most union workers? ›

The 10 U.S. cities with the highest union membership:
  • Springfield, Illinois.
  • Monroe, Michigan.
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, California.
  • Topeka, Kansas.
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California.
  • Kennewick-Richland, Washington.
  • San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, California.
  • Syracuse, New York.

What occupations are heavily unionized? ›

27 high-paying union jobs
  • Actor. National average salary : $17,192 per year. ...
  • Automotive mechanic. National average salary: $41,320 per year. ...
  • Marine service technician. National average salary: $41,920 per year. ...
  • Ironworker. ...
  • Airline manager. ...
  • Carpenter. ...
  • Firefighter. ...
  • Customer service representative.
Mar 10, 2023

What percent of Starbucks is unionized? ›

So far, employees have voted to unionize at 274 stores, or 3% of Starbucks' 9,000 company-owned U.S. locations, according to the labor board. Sixty-three stores have voted not to unionize.

What is the largest workers union in the world? ›

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is the world's largest trade union federation.

Why does Texas not allow unions? ›

Texas is a right-to-work state, meaning an employee can't be forced to join a union to work somewhere. Green said that makes it harder to maintain a union. He noted in right-to-work states, unions still have to support employees who do not pay dues, which in turn hurts unions in those states.

Why are there no unions in Florida? ›

Florida's Right to Work law means that Floridians are already free from the obligation to join a labor union or pay dues to it. Teachers' unions in Florida are not legally allowed to go on strike and the school boards have the ultimate say over employee salaries.

Are unions banned in Texas? ›

Texas is a right-to-work state. This means that under the Texas Labor Code, a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labor union or other labor organization. Tex.

What is the longest lasting labor union? ›

In 1955, the two merged to create the AFL–CIO, which has comprised the longest lasting and most influential labor federation in the United States to this day.

What are the union trends in 2023? ›

2023 unionization trends show the year will be filled with strong employee activism, new alt-unions, strikes, protests, new labor laws, and NLRB decisions in favor of unionizing. Understanding who is unionizing is the first step towards knowing how to make unions unnecessary.

When were unions strongest in the US? ›

Union membership reached a peak in the 1940s and 1950s. After declining in recent decades, younger generations, the impact of the pandemic on workers, and a tight labor market are helping to boost union membership.

How long is bidens State of the Union 2023? ›

C-SPAN reports that Biden's Tuesday speech was 1:12:41, just under 73 minutes. It's longer than his first State of the Union in 2022, which lasted one hour, one minute and 50 seconds.

What is the shortest state of the union address ever? ›

In this first Address, Washington created the example of what would become expected of presidents after him. Even at the time, issues such as his choice of clothing, who was standing beside him, and the way he gave his message were discussed. It remains, at 1,089 words, the shortest State of the Union Address.

Who is the designated survivor in SOTU 2023? ›

The 2023 designated survivor is Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. This person is chosen to continue to lead the government in the event of a catastrophic event at the Capitol. (Some members of Congress also hang back to keep the legislative branch functioning if there was an attack.)

How many watch State of the Union 2023? ›

NEW YORK – February 8, 2023 – An estimated 27.3 million people watched President Biden deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 7, according to Nielsen.

What is the point of the State of the Union? ›

The State of the Union Message is a message from the President to Congress, usually given once a year in January or February. In the message, the President talks about important issues facing Americans and offers his ideas on solving the nation's problems, including suggestions for new laws and policies.

What did Biden say in the State of the Union address? ›

Today, COVID no longer controls our lives. And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken. As we gather here tonight, we are writing the next chapter in the great American story, a story of progress and resilience.

How long was bidens State of the Union last night? ›

He stayed largely on script, but true to form, he often added short off-the-cuff quips. President Joe Biden, who is known for his loquacity, delivered his longest State of the Union speech yet on Tuesday, clocking in at about 1 hour and 13 minutes.

What is the oldest State in the union? ›

Order of States' Admission
1.DelawareDec. 7, 1787
2.PennsylvaniaDec 12, 1787
3.New JerseyDec. 18, 1787
4.GeorgiaJan. 2, 1788
46 more rows

What was the first State to join the union? ›

1. Delaware. Delaware is known as the First State because it was the first state to ratify, or sign, the United States Constitution.

Who doesn t attend the State of the Union address? ›

Article II, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution requires the president to "give to Congress Information on the State of the Union." Each year, one member of the president's cabinet is absent from the address, to maintain the line of succession in case of an emergency. Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr.

Did TV viewership decline for Biden's State of the Union speech? ›

Tuesday's audience fell by 29 percent from Mr. Biden's previous State of the Union, which drew about 38.2 million viewers. CNN, with 2.4 million viewers, suffered the biggest decline compared with a year ago, losing about half of its audience from 2022. That year, CNN's viewership topped that of NBC and MSNBC.

Is Fox News losing viewers 2023? ›

In May 2023 Fox News ratings felt the impact of the suddenly departed Tucker Carlson, whose last telecast was April 21. For May, Fox News averaged 1.42 million viewers in primetime, a 32% decline from April, when the network averaged 2.08 million viewers. (All ratings are based on live + same day from Nielsen.)

What is bidens approval rating? ›

A Quinnipiac University poll from a week earlier shows Biden's approval rating among registered voters at 42% approve, 53% disapprove — with 58% of independents disapproving.


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