Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday met with Sean O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, indicating that the GOP frontrunner is making progress in his efforts to court a traditionally Democratic voting block.
O’Brien met with the former president in a private meeting to discuss “serious issues” to improve the lives of workers in the country as Trump continues his 2024 presidential election campaign. The move to meet with Trump is notable given unions’ historical ties to Democrats, a relationship President Joe Biden has sought to strengthen, declaring the night before the 2020 election that he would be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”
“Because he gained a lot of support from union and non-union blue-collar workers the past two elections, it makes sense that Sean O’Brien and union leaders would want to meet with Trump,” Austen Bannan, employment policy fellow with Americans for Prosperity, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s an opportunity to appease some of those workers in terms of optics, and it’s possibly a chance to get a little insight into how Trump appeals to union workers. Maybe they can take a page from his book in their own tactics with union workers, for instance.”
Trump flipped typical blue states Michigan and Wisconsin in the 2016 election and came very close to winning in Minnesota, all states with significant union membership. Around 14% and 14.2% of workers in the states of Michigan and Minnesota were unionized as of 2022, respectively, while Wisconsin trails with 7.1% of workers unionized, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unions have in the past been fond of the president, with the AFL-CIO, which represents 12.5 million workers, voting to endorse Biden for the 2024 election in June, according to an announcement from the group. The announcement hailed him as “the most pro-union president in our lifetimes.”
Under Biden, there has been an uptick in union activity, most recently in the middle of 2023, which some have dubbed the “summer of strikes.” The Writers Guild of America, the actors union SAG-AFTRA and the United Auto Workers all went on strike in 2023, while the Teamsters narrowly reached a deal just days before their contract negotiation.
Biden has taken a number of actions to appeal to union workers, including creating a task force in April 2021 to investigate how to increase union membership. The president has also actively campaigned at union-related events, taking the unprecedented step of joining striking UAW workers on the picket line in the midst of their labor dispute in September.
In July 2023, Trump released a video attacking Biden’s green policies and asked for the UAW to endorse his campaign due to friction between the union and the president about the transition to electric vehicles, which could affect union jobs. Trump also chose to skip the first GOP presidential debate in September and instead held a rally in Detroit, Michigan, in an effort to speak to the local striking auto workers.
“While there may be some policy overlap in Trump’s economic policies with union leadership interests — domestic energy production and manufacturing goals — to me the meeting has more to do with appeasing union workers before union leaders inevitably side with President Biden and direct union member resources towards him,” Bannan told the DCNF.
The White House and Teamsters did not immediately respond to a request to comment from the DCNF.
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