Why Are The Teamsters Reportedly Trying To Meet With Donald Trump?

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Jim Hoffa, center, president of Teamsters union, leads marchers to the Port of Los Angeles in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles, Thursday April 17, 2008, to take part in "Hollywood to the Docks" march.

The New York Times and conservative media outlets reported on Wednesday that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest labor unions in the United States, is seeking a meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The move could be a potential snub to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton who has been relying on the endorsement of major labor groups.

A representative for the Teamsters could not confirm to ThinkProgress that a meeting with Trump or any other candidate is scheduled, but the union said in a statement that “the Teamsters look forward to meeting with Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and any other candidate, regardless of party affiliation, who is committed to improving the lives of America’s working families.”

A number of unions have withheld endorsements for Clinton for a various reasons, including member support for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is currently leading Clinton in New Hampshire polls, although Clinton leads nationally. A few have made decisions — the American Federation of Teachers and three other major unions have endorsed Clinton, while Sanders has earned the backing of National Nurses United.

Fox News reported Tuesday that the Teamster’s denial of a Clinton endorsement “could prove to be a major setback to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and possibly to the entire Democratic Party.” The network reported that “union sources” said the move was an intentional snub to Clinton for her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, a precautionary measure in case Joe Biden jumps into the race, and a decision designed to give the union a chance to speak with Republican candidates — including real estate mogul Trump.

The news that the Teamsters will sit down with Republicans as well is surprising given the widespread anti-union views held among the GOP candidates. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the most vocal anti-labor candidate recently dropped out of the race, but before he did, released a plan to gut unions and enact federal “right to work” legislation. Similarly, Gov. Chris Christie has waged a battle with unions in New Jersey over the state’s pension system.

“The Teamsters will work with and support any candidate who puts the needs of America’s working families above the deep pockets of their corporate donors,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in the union’s statement.

Though Trump is largely funding his own campaign and isn’t relying on corporate donors, his support for “America’s working families” and unions is more questionable. The New York Times wrote: “That a major union, in such a racially charged election, would seek to meet with Mr. Trump is striking.”

In addition to several of his now well-known racist comments and anti-immigrant beliefs, Trump has also had a difficult relationship with unions as a business owner.

Donald Tump

CREDIT: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Hundreds of workers at his Las Vegas hotel have been pushing to form a union for months without support from the Republican frontrunner. Eighty-six percent of workers in the planned bargaining unit had signed cards as of last month, but the hotel’s management has run a campaign to convince the hotel staff not to organize.

According to the Nation, “the local hospitality union, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, is pressing serious charges of labor violations and denouncing [Trump’s] operations as a bastion of union busting in an otherwise union town.” The Las Vegas strip and downtown area have a roughly 95 percent union density.

Trump, of course, said on Fox News in 2011 that he has “a great relationship with unions.”

“I understand what’s happening in Wisconsin,” Trump said about Gov. Walker’s attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from state employees, adding that he supports Walker but doesn’t necessarily think the move would be right for every state.

Clinton’s relationship with unions has also been contentious due to her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline — many labor unions support construction of the pipeline because they say it would mean a surge of jobs in the construction industry. But a Clinton endorsement would seem more likely from major unions given her support for organized labor.

The Teamsters endorsed President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but has supported Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the past.