The alliance that includes all major U.S. construction unions has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris for president and vice president of the United States. The North America's Building Trades Unions' decision to endorse the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket, announced on Oct. 23, comes after “four years of broken promises,” according to its president, Sean McGarvey.
Although 13 of the group's 14 affiliate unions—including the carpenters’, laborers’ and electrical workers’ unions—had already endorsed Biden, McGarvey says NABTU delayed its endorsement announcement as it tried to continue working with the Trump administration on issues that affect construction union members and the industry in general.
“We stayed at it until the bitter end,” McGarvey said in an Oct. 23 interview with ENR. “We’re disappointed. But we’re looking out for the economic security of our existing members and our future members."
He added, “It was time to move on to somebody who has the right proposals to create the things that the Trump administration talked ad nauseum about doing, but never got done.”
McGarvey and other union officials have worked directly with the administration to address key issues since Trump took office. McGarvey has been a member of the Great American Economic Revival Industry Group—a bipartisan group of leaders in various industries that the White House formed in April to help restart the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 spread.
McGarvey said negotiations have been particularly disappointing since the pandemic hit early this year.
He said some NABTU agenda items included: enhanced unemployment benefits to provide stability for people who lost their jobs; addressing critical pension issues; and making investments to infrastructure and other programs to boost and create job opportunities for people to get back to work.
McGarvey said that what he found most disappointing from a timing perspective was a failure to create a temporary infectious-disease standard that would “give people the confidence that they could go to work and be relatively safe, if they followed the protocols, and they would not bring home the virus to their families.”
In early October, NABTU blasted Trump after he announced plans to delay COVID-19 relief negotiations until after the election.
Soon afterward, the president shifted and called for targeted relief and then later, for a big relief and stimulus package. But negotiations between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a possible stimulus measure have continued for many days, so far without a deal.
“Commitments were made to us, and me personally, by the President of the United States and it didn’t happen,” McGarvey said. “We got nothing on infrastructure. We got no COBRA program. We got nothing on pension rescue.”
In the endorsement announcement two weeks before the Nov. 3 elections, McGarvey said that Biden “knows [that] the construction industry, all front-line essential workers and, indeed, the entire nation need strong labor protections, health and retirement security, and the economic opportunity that collective bargaining provides—and his policies will ensure it.”
Although construction unions have traditionally favored Democratic candidates, that strategy has shifted in recent years, as a large portion of union members favored the Republican platform generally.
But McGarvey said the COVID pandemic sparked a shift in that support.
He noted that in internal polling of construction union members in early March, a majority of members supported the president. But McGarvey said that a follow-up poll on Labor Day showed “a pretty dramatic shift in the attitudes of our members, which surprised us.”
He said, “The president went from a majority position to a minority position and I don’t know that it’s gotten any better since early September.”
Trump does have significant support from the construction industry, including the endorsement of the Associated Builders and Contractors in August.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, construction individuals, companies and groups contributed $11.1 million to the Trump campaign in the 2019-20 election cycle as of mid-October.
The center reports that construction sector contributions to Biden were $5.8 million.
Contributions from labor, including the building trades unions, are categorized separately by the center.