Democratic presidential hopefuls clambered to showcase their labor credentials this week in a bid to wow members of an influential union whose endorsement could offer a critical boost in their party’s 2020 nominating contest.
Over the course of two days at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) legislative conference, seven contenders recalled personal ties to organized labor, railed against international trade agreements and decried right-to-work laws that they said had gutted organized labor protections across the country.
The appearances underscore just how eager Democrats are to court members of major trade unions at a time when many labor groups are reluctant to wade in early to the 2020 presidential race.
So far, only the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has backed a candidate in the Democratic primary, announcing late last month that it would endorse former Vice President Joe Biden.
Among the candidates who spoke at the IAM conference were Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Klobuchar and Booker, as well as Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.).
The IAM announced earlier this week that it had reformed its presidential endorsement process to include a vote by its full membership, a change spurred by lingering frustration among many members with the group’s early endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary contest. The union has nearly 600,000 active and retired members.
“It might be easier to do it the old way. We could sit down with the candidates and negotiate in a private meeting, asking them to make promises they may or may not keep,” Bob Martinez, the machinist union’s international president, wrote in a letter to members this week.
“Or we could really make them work for our endorsement.”
Each candidate that took the stage on Tuesday and Wednesday appeared intent on doing just that.
Sanders touted that he had “walked on more picket lines all over this country than I can remember,” all the while vowing to put an “immediate moratorium” on cuts to pension benefits overseen by the federal government if elected next year, a pledge that drew lingering applause from conferencegoers.
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