The association of the Democratic Party with the "defund the police" movement, which got traction after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd six months ago, hurt it in the Nov. 3 election among union households, according to John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union of America.
The TWU represents 150,000 workers, mostly in the airline, railroad, transit, and utilities sectors.
Vice President Joe Biden, a long-time supporter of law enforcement, repeatedly denied he wanted to defund the police during the campaign. Yet President Trump's more-strident calls for "law and order" and unequivocal support of cops helped him garner widespread police-union support across the country.
'We Don't Want Defunding'
"The TWU is a microcosm of American voters...a good crosscut of the electorate, and I don't know of any demographic within my union, or anywhere else, that wants to defund the police," Mr. Samuelsen said during a phone interview Nov. 4. "Of course, there are individuals that agree with defunding the police. But in terms of the voting electorates...people want to invest in the police. They want to double down on investment."
He continued, "Everybody wants a trained, healthy police force that doesn't engage in any kind of criminality or abuse, and that is not achieved by defunding them. I think working people realize that, and it was a mistake to engage in that kind of campaign. And I think the Democrats made a mistake buying into that—trying to simplify it with a hashtag for what is a very complex issue."
He said that Mr. Trump's peeling off so many police unions had "the ability to divide the labor movement" because the "sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles of TWU members are law-enforcement officers all over the country."
Multiple exit polls showed that Mr. Biden improved significantly on Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance with labor households. In Michigan and Wisconsin, he won more than 60 percent of the union vote, keeping the President's share below 40 percent, an eight-point drop from his national share of union households in 2016.
Reasons to Shun Him
But Mr. Samuelsen said he was concerned that Mr. Trump's support remained durable with so many union households in light of his "anti-union" record and flip-flops on a comprehensive stimulus package "that involved the lives of working people."
While Mr. Biden's chances of winning the presidency steadily improved the day after the election, the TWU leader said the defection of so many union households from the Democratic Party had down-ballot consequences locally.
He cited the race in the 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and a slice of Brooklyn, between Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat, and Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis. Prior to the counting of absentee ballots due to begin Nov. 9, she led by 37,000 votes over the one-term Congressman, who was endorsed by the TWU.
"The union density in that district—southern Brooklyn and Staten Island is probably the highest in the city," Mr. Samuelsen said. "Those are all sanitation workers, transit workers, airline workers, firefighters, cops and all kinds of municipal workers. Those votes did not come from thin air."
The de Blasio Factor
He also said that even though Mr. Rose had run a commercial during the campaign calling Mayor de Blasio "the worst Mayor" the city had ever had, he suffered from being linked to his fellow Democrat by the Malliotakis campaign.
"There was definitely a de Blasio effect, where we see Republicans just point at somebody and say, 'He's with de Blasio,'" Mr. Samuelsen said.
At the Mayor's Nov. 5 briefing, when he was asked about similar comments made by Governor Cuomo regarding the GOP's unexpectedly good showing in New York, the Mayor quipped, "I think what I'll do going forward is just make sure I strongly endorse the Republican candidates and confuse matters going forward."
Mr. Samuelsen, a leading supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders during the party primaries, said that Democrats also had to work harder to rebuild trust with labor households that had lost faith in the party's ability "to deliver on a real economic security agenda for working people."
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