Unions, labor could prove crucial for Democrats in 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Outside of last week's first Democratic debate, it was hard to miss the large group of doctors and nurses from the local health care union outside of the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami, Fla. More than 100 members of SEIU Local 1991 were armed with signs, a bullhorn and their voices, all with one message for the candidates as they entered the debate hall.
“We just think that it’s crazy that the richest country on Earth doesn’t give health care to its citizens,” said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and the local president.
Baker, who has led her union since 1993, is originally from Cleveland. She shared with us her memories of steel plants and manufacturing facilities throughout eastern Ohio along with an understanding of what unions and blue-collar jobs meant to Ohio and the Rustbelt as a whole. They are places that then-candidate and now-President Donald Trump flipped from Democratic strongholds to a new Republican stomping ground. They are now the same places Democrats are now trying to win back if they want to win the presidency, and Baker believes unions are the key to getting that victory.
“Unions vote for candidates who help build a strong middle class,” said Baker, who has yet to support one particular candidate. “I think it’s time for these candidates to stop supporting special interest stuff.”
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Wednesday shows health care, at 89 percent, as the top issue among Democrats; the economy and jobs didn’t even crack the top five issues. So, with the strongest economy in decades, how do the Democrats try to win back voters who flipped from blue to red on the economy four years ago?
“I think (unions and labor leaders) are going to go back to a progressive message when it comes to economics,” said Todd Belt, director of Political Management at The George Washington University. “I think labor is going to be a big thrust for the Democrats next year.”
But there is more a voter should consider, Belt explained. It’s not as simple as energizing the base, especially if they feel the economy is working for them. That also means examining the President’s promises to bring jobs back to places hard-hit during the 2008 recession, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan – all states where Trump won in the last presidential election.
“If those tariffs are still in place and people are feeling the hardships, I think that’s going to open up a window for Democrats,” Belt said.
Baker hopes union leaders and voters will consider a window that’s already open that combines what the majority of Democratic-leaning voters want with what was a tried-and-true party platform: the fight for better health care, and higher wages.
“I think the working people in this country would love to have a candidate who unites us all back on the middle class,” Baker said.