Members debate joining labor movement in early endorsement of Joe Biden

The AFT held two regional telephone town halls May 24, marking the most recent in a series of efforts to solicit input from members regarding the AFT’s possible endorsement of President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary. The AFL-CIO has called for the labor movement to issue a unified show of support for Biden ahead of the primaries; however, the AFT remains committed to gathering as much member feedback as possible before joining.

Photo of AFT officers in front of the AFT Votes bus

The town halls highlighted Biden’s record as the most supportive labor president in history—with one member suggesting he even surpassed Franklin D. Roosevelt. Participants discussed some of his game-changing accomplishments, from student debt cancellation and saving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, to expanding the child tax credit and reviving pensions. AFT President Randi Weingarten pointed out that Biden understands public education, healthcare, higher education and public employees better than any other elected official.

“I am 100 percent behind joining the rest of the labor movement and endorsing President Biden early,” said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “I hope we take this route. It would be different, and that’s why we need to do it.”

Some members suggested that the AFT should wait to issue an endorsement until the field of candidates has grown, but Biden’s record doesn’t warrant waiting, Weingarten said.

“Who would be better?” she asked. “It’s about looking at (Biden’s) record. He has done work that no one else has done since FDR, he believes in unions, and he believes in workers. He fought for pensions, and he got them back. No one is better for what we care about—public education, democracy, fairness and families.”

It doesn’t benefit the union to withhold our endorsement when there is already a candidate who shares our values and has demonstrated a commitment to working with us, she continued.

“You’ve seen the attacks on us and the fear the extremists are pushing. … We need to make sure that we are defending public education and that we are defending democracy,” Weingarten said. “We need to be sure that we move together, and I think (Biden’s track record) warrants our endorsement as a labor movement.”

Weingarten noted that polling results showed AFT members would vote for Biden by a 41-point margin over Donald Trump and by a 37-point margin against Ron DeSantis. And Democratic members want the AFT to join with other unions in making an early primary endorsement of a Biden-Harris ticket by an overwhelming 92 percent to 8 percent.

During a national town hall held on May 9, a member of AFT Michigan noted, “This is my first year as an educator where Democrats are in control. Under Republicans, we lost a lot of our collective bargaining rights, our pensions were under attack, education was on the chopping block. Instead of funding our schools, the Republicans were gutting our schools. These past elections, Democrats took control. We negated the private sector ‘right to work,’ and we are moving forward and reversing the previous governors’ attacks on public education, employees and unions. It’s night and day. What I’m concerned with is, what would happen if Trump or DeSantis is elected? Our students, parents and communities can’t afford that. As someone from one of the most important battleground states, (I believe) we need to get started early.”

Weingarten reiterated that any endorsement for the 2024 general election would be an issue for the delegates to the AFT convention to consider, but these discussions are necessary now because the next step is deciding where we stand with the likely Democratic nominee, Biden, and if we endorse early as part of the labor movement or later on our own. 

To engage in the discussions and to find out more, visit

[Melanie Boyer]