NEW YORK, N.Y.—In a loud rally at its Manhattan headquarters June 5, the Hotel Trades Council became the first labor union to endorse Mayor Bill de Blasio for President.
“You stand behind your friends,” HTC President Peter Ward told the several hundred people packed into the union’s second-floor auditorium. “He knows who the people in our union are.”
The mayor signed a bill barring the conversion of hotels to condominiums, Ward said, and when Airbnb was “operating illegally and taking the bread off our tables,” de Blasio “fought back every inch of the way.”
The 2020 election needs to be about “the power of working people,” the mayor told the standing-room-only crowd, many waving round signs with HTC’s two-tone blue logo and rectangular placards with “Working People First: De Blasio 2020” on a blue and green background.
“The federal government is on the side of the 1%, and that’s got to change,” de Blasio said. He called Donald Trump a “bully” and compared his governing style to three-card mollie.
“Normally, we’d be proud when there’s a New Yorker in the White House, but not when one of our con artists gets elected,” he said a few minutes later. “Are you ready to get Con Don out of there?”
The mayor touted his record of getting universal pre-kindergarten established in New York City (and the lobbying help he got from HTC to get state funding for it), the city’s 2014 paid sick-leave law and $15 minimum wage, and “guaranteeing health care for all New Yorkers.”
“There is always enough money for affordable housing for working people,” he said. “There’s plenty of money in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands.”
He did not offer any specific stances or proposals on national issues such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or the longtime unions demand for government action to make it easier for workers to organize. He closed his remarks by leading a chant of “Working People First.”
The 40,000-member HTC is the second major union to endorse a presidential candidate this early in the race. The International Association of Fire Fighters backed former Vice President Joseph Biden in April. United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta, acting as an individual, is supporting California Senator Kamala Harris.
Democratic hopefuls have courted labor by speaking at union conferences and actions such as joining picket lines during the April strike at Stop & Shop supermarkets in New England, but most have decided to hold off on endorsing any of them. In part, this is because of the more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. “We aren’t rushing in making a decision this time around because we believe the field is so strong and we want to give people an opportunity to answer questions,” Lee Saunders, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told Reuters in March.
Unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists are also seeking more rank-and-file input into their choices. Many don’t want to repeat 2016, when major national unions including AFSCME, the AFT, and the Service Employees International Union backed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before a single primary or caucus ballot had been cast, and also before Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont had emerged as a serious challenger with significant rank-and-file support.
Waiting can also give unions more leverage in getting specific policy commitments. Candidates seeking the Teamsters’ endorsement, General President James R. Hoffa wrote in the Detroit News in April, should be committed to “preventing the looming pension and retirement crisis; ensuring U.S. workers are represented in international trade deals; and protecting wages and labor standards.”
“Supporting organizing efforts and standing for fairness and respect in the workplace is essential,” he added.