Pennsylvania unions warn that workers can't survive four more years of Trump

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Unemployment in Pennsylvania has doubled over Donald Trump's first term in office, despite his promises to bring jobs back.

This week, two major labor unions representing nearly a million American workers endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, during a visit to Pennsylvania, Biden accepted the backing of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, along with the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Pennsylvania labor leaders have warned of the damage Donald Trump has done to American workers.

"What we're trying to explain is that union labor, working families cannot withstand another four years of assaults on the middle class," Bill Sproule, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Eastern Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Jim Kunz serves as the business manager for the operating engineers' Local 66 chapter, which represents nearly 8,000 union members in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. Kunz told the newspaper that Trump's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board — which enforces U.S. labor law and oversees labor disputes — have been devastating for American workers.

During Biden's Pennsylvania visit, the former vice president promised to be a strong advocate for labor rights if elected. "Collective bargaining would be sacred. It’s a guarantee. And union apprenticeships would be sacred," Biden told supporters on Wednesday.

Trump also visited Pennsylvania last week in an attempt to present himself as a great job creator for state. "We fixed our disastrous trade deals. They were a disaster, brought jobs and factories back to Pennsylvania," he claimed, and promised that in a second term he would "keep your jobs in Pennsylvania where they belong."

He has not lived up to those promises. When Trump took office in January 2017, roughly 333,000 people in Pennsylvania were unemployed, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By July 2020, that number had more than doubled to nearly 794,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians. Over that same time period, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate climbed from 5.2% to 12.5%.

While September data for the state is not yet available, Friday's national labor report found that that job growth had slowed significantly as the economic recovery stalls due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "The issue is momentum, and I think we’re losing it," Drew Matus, a chief market strategist for MetLife, told CNBC.

Trump narrowly carried Pennsylvania in 2016, and analysts say it is unlikely he could win another term without the state's 20 electoral votes. Recent polling shows Biden leading the state by an average of almost 6 points.

Trump has embraced anti-union laws, saying in a February 2016 radio interview, "We've had great support from workers, the people that work, the real workers, but I love the right to work. I like it better because it is lower." Last month, Trump mocked Biden for speaking to union members.

Trump's administration has been mostly hostile to labor, siding with corporations in their efforts to erode the rights of their employees. This has included restricting workers' ability to organize and improve their working conditions, blocking union elections, placing limits on who can join a union, and loosening workplace safety protections. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress and the White House have fought Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

During his reelection campaign, Trump has touted the small number of labor endorsements he has received — almost entirely from police unions. At Tuesday's presidential debate, Trump bragged of support from "almost every law enforcement group in the United States. I have Florida, I have Texas, I have Ohio."

But most of the nation's largest other unions have backed Biden. The AFL-CIO, which represents 12.5 million members, called Biden "a lifelong supporter of workers" who "has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.