Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, watched a groundswell of support build for former Vice President Joe Biden last week and thought things were moving too fast.
Eiding, a fan of Biden’s for years, called a breakfast meeting Thursday, at which he told leaders of about a third of the 100 unions in his council that they should “keep their powder dry” in presidential politics.
“This whole Joe Biden thing kind of disturbs me a little bit,” Eiding said. “This is not disrespect to Joe Biden. I think jumping out too soon will leave us in a position that’s too fragile.”
Biden announced his bid for president April 25 and came straight to Philadelphia for a fund-raiser at the home of Comcast senior executive vice president David L. Cohen. On Monday, he held a rally at a Pittsburgh union hall and picked up the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Eiding wants to hear in person what Biden and the now 20 other Democratic candidates for president have to say about labor issues before endorsements start flying around. He is planning a “labor summit” for the candidates in Philadelphia for the late summer.
“Collectively, the unions put in as much money as the big high-flying swells put in," Eiding said. “Between the money and the feet on the street and all the work we do, Philadelphia is pretty important.”
He has the support of former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party and an enthusiastic supporter of Biden. “He’s doing the right thing,” Brady said of Eiding.
Eiding said he might also invite to the summit Republicans challenging President Donald Trump’s bid for a second term. Trump, however, is not welcome.
“We can’t forget the fact that we have a guy in the White House that hasn’t done anything for labor,” Eiding said.
That’s a message he hopes to send to any of the nearly 200,000 union members in his council who supported Trump in 2016.
“I still think there’s some people being fooled by his message,” Eiding said, adding that “too many” of his members voted for Trump. “More than we expected.”
Precise data is hard to come by, but the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, carried out by a consortium of 99 universities, estimated that about 38 percent of union members nationally voted for Trump four years ago, based on its post-election polling.
Eiding’s caution at wading into the primary is informed by 2016. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont brought their battle for the Democratic nomination to Pennsylvania’s AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia that April.
Both were received warmly, but Eiding was later unimpressed by Clinton, who won the national AFL-CIO endorsement not long before the Democratic National Convention.
“The first time she ran [for president, in 2008], she was great,” Eiding said. “The second time she ran, she kind of ignored Philadelphia and labor.”
This is Biden’s third campaign for president. He can count Eiding as a fan, but it’s early and the field is large.
“We go back a ways,” Eiding said of Biden. “Personally, I think he’s a great person. It wouldn’t bother me a bit if he wound up as the candidate. But right now he’s [just] one of them.”