Labor leaders came to Capitol Hill on behalf of Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, on Tuesday and they had a clear message for Democrats: in order to take back the Capitol and White House, talk about jobs and don’t stop.
Veasey along with Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., are co-chairs of the Blue Collar Caucus, a newly formed group aimed at winning back the blue-collar voters who left the Democratic Party in droves during the 2016 election and helped flip blue states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in favor of President Donald Trump.
Veasey and Boyle gathered leaders from some of America’s biggest unions for a listening session aimed at fully understanding the needs of blue collar workers and how Democrats can fight back against Trump’s populist message that proved to be effective at winning votes.
“You have to pound jobs,” said Veasey, of Fort Worth, Texas. “They (voters) like ... the rhetoric that Trump was saying during the campaign but most of the leaders don’t think he’s going to follow up on it. I don’t think there’s going to be any followup whatsoever, and I think it’s important as Democrats that we seize on that.”
While some social and environmental issues play well with certain segments of the Democratic Party’s base, the labor leaders argued that Democrats need to do a better job of talking about job creation and wages in order to win the swing votes in congressional districts and purple states necessary to take back the majority.
“I think that Democrats need to have a more coherent economic agenda,” said Bill Samuel, director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO, the biggest confederation of American unions. “On trade, we have to be out in front of Trump, we can’t let him say he’s for dealing with China and Mexico. He hasn’t done either yet. We should be talking about that.”
Samuel, whose organization represents 12.5 million workers, wants Democrats to defend workers, including federal employees who, he said, are “under attack” from the Trump administration. He said that Trump was able to perform well among union members who cited trade as their most important issue, suggesting that the candidate’s anti-Trans Pacific Partnership rhetoric during the campaign paid off in votes.
Boyle said Tuesday’s listening session, attended by nearly a dozen Democrats, was an opportunity to hear stories about the challenges working Americans face.
“We saw throughout the campaign where the anecdotal information was more accurate than some of the polling,” Boyle said. “Sometimes that anecdotal information is important. There is a lot of intensity in the room among the members to get this right.”
Veasey said there are notable differences between rank-and-file union members from Texas, one of the oldest right-to-work states where employees are not compelled to join unions or pay dues, and states such as Pennsylvania, where unions traditionally played a larger role in political life.
“One of the issues that differentiates union members in Texas and the Northeast is guns,” Veasey said. “That’s a big issue. When I go to Lockheed or General Motors ... all those union members are gun owners, they believe in responsible gun ownership and responsible gun safety, but all those guys are gun owners, and that’s not necessarily an issue in New Jersey.”
For Veasey, Trump’s campaign honeymoon is over and he must start delivering on the economic rhetoric that catapulted him to victory.
“We’ve been talking about trying to do something about NAFTA,” Veasey said. “A lot of people felt NAFTA really hurt their jobs. We’re waiting to hear something from the administration on that, nothing.”
Trump met with a number of union leaders in January shortly after taking office, and he stressed the need for infrastructure investment that could potentially create more jobs for blue collar workers.