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Growing Labor Unrest Could Hurt Democratic Party Election Prospects

Labor's limited engagement in 2024 could be disastrous for Democrats.

Members of Teamsters Local 631 and 986, Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA participate in the Las Vegas SAG-AFTRA strike event at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on July 27, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Members of SAG-AFTRA and WGA (Writers Guild of America) have both walked out in their first joint strike against the studios since 1960. The strike has shut down a majority of Hollywood productions with writers approaching the fourth month of their strike against the Hollywood studios. Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images.

When we cautioned in our May 3 editorial that inflation-led labor strikes are now in North America, we failed to estimate how the story could take hold. Our concern then was that many live television programs would go dark because of the Writers Guild of America dispute with the studios, which only affected about 11,500 screenwriters.

Today, labor strife in America is broad and deep, impacting many sectors. Since May 1, Cornell University's Labor Action Tracker lists 86 labor actions in 149 locations in the United States. Workers at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Amazon, Trader Joe's, Gannett Newspapers, Coca-Cola, and many other organizations have declared work action against their management. In nearly every case, the issues of labor unrest - better pay and working conditions in the face of runaway inflation - are all too familiar.

On July 14, SAG-AFTRA, a union representing approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and other media professionals struck work in a direct threat to the studios' plans to release new movies and television shows for the Fall.

When the engine of entertainment stops, it is just not the professionals whose names are listed in the credits at the end of a show that are impacted. An entire collateral ecosystem collapses - carpenters, set designers, plumbers, electricians, drivers, caterers, janitors, and many others.

The New York Times noted that "with both the studios and unions expecting a drawn-out battle, everyone from makeup artists and costume designers to carpet dealers and foam sculptors is preparing to perhaps go for months without working, at a time when many are still recovering from the pandemic."

The Hollywood strike threatens workers in far-off places too. Consider a new blockbuster that is to be launched. Top stars engage in a tour to promote the movie on TV talk shows, conventions, or red-carpet events. With SAG-AFTRA on strike, these tours don't occur - meaning that limo drivers ferrying executives and artists from the airport to downtown hotels are without work. Lower hotel occupancy rates result in layoffs and pay cuts.

Hotel workers are already on strike for reasons unrelated to the Hollywood strike. Nearly 15,000 workers representing 59 hotels in Los Angeles have already struck work, "the largest multi-hotel strike in California history," according to Unite Here Local 11.

Over in Atlanta, the Teamsters Union, representing 340,000 drivers and hourly-wage workers at the giant package delivery company UPS, is negotiating to avert a strike before their contract expires on July 31.

Labor unions are a reliable pillar of Democrats in elections. Although only 6% of America's private labor force is unionized, most government workers are organized. When members pay dues, a significant portion is diverted by union management to make campaign contributions to Democrats. Without the support of unions through PAC contributions, most Democratic candidates would not be competitive in swing districts.

Union leaders also engage in grassroots organizing, unleashing their members to go door-to-door to campaign on behalf of Democratic candidates. They help in ballot collection where ballot boxes are allowed and oversee polling stations.

According to a 2020 CNN exit poll, roughly 20% of U.S. households have a union member. Union households favored Biden over Trump, with a margin of 56%-40%, compared to non-union households at 50%-49%.

For an administration that always talks up union support through exaggerated stories of President Biden's working-class roots in Scranton, its record is mixed. The turning point in this administration's labor relations was when the White House teamed up with Democrats in Congress to interfere in the railroad strike in December. They voted to impose a tentative September agreement between rail companies and 12 independent rail worker unions, although four leagues had rejected its terms, using brute power, Nancy Pelosi style. Worse, the Senate vote, 80-15, to suppress workers' collective bargaining rights codified into law for generations was even more lopsided.

Biden's reasoning was, as usual, cloaked in hypocrisy and dishonesty. "I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures," President Biden said. "But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country. And, the agreement will raise workers' wages by 24%, increase health care benefits, and preserve two-person crews."

Since then, labor unions have been openly confrontational with the White House. The United Autoworkers Union, representing automakers, has thus far refused to endorse President Biden in 2024 - and if the UAW leadership is tepid in its support, it could have consequences in automotive swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin. A Teamsters official warned the White House not to intervene in the UPS negotiations. Georgia is a swing state of prime importance in 2024.

Even if union officials and the White House sign a truce, the more critical concern to the Biden campaign is if rank and file members will support such an incompetent administration. Due to rising prices, high crime, rampant illegal immigration, and a Ukraine war effort going the wrong way yet costing American taxpayers billions, members' pocketbooks and quality of life are suffering.

2024 could be the first election in a long time where labor's muted involvement could be disastrous for the Democrats, from President Biden all the way down-ticket.

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