Unions Find Themselves in a Tough Spot in the Election


The Presidential Election of 2016 brought historic levels of division within the United States. The media contributed to this with many national networks seeming to go to war with each other over the differing views.

One group that was caught in the middle was labor unions. Traditionally, the labor unions have supported Democratic candidates and in exchange, the Democratic Party has worked to strengthen the labor movement. However, many of the other positions of the Democratic Party conflict with positions held in rural America.

In 2008, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) emphatically supported the election of Barack Obama. However, a few years later, UMWA President Cecil Roberts was leading a protest of the policies of President Obama and his “War on Coal.”

Many wondered who the UMWA would support in the 2016 Presidential Election. Hillary Clinton was promising, “We’re going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.” But she was also promising to strengthen the unions. The UMWA Director of Government Affairs stated that UMWA would likely sit out the election altogether. That was probably a wise decision since many of its members felt a Clinton presidency would further hurt coal production.

Even while the UMWA was trying to ride both sides of the fence, the The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) came out in support of Hillary Clinton. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka warned that a Trump presidency would be disastrous for U.S. workers and vowed to mobilize the group’s resources to defeat him. The AFL-CIO is the largest U.S. federation of labor unions and the UMWA is a member. Therefore, many coal miners were left with the reality that in 2016 their union dues were again going to support a candidate that was against coal production.

A similar situation existed for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The IBEW is also a member of AFL-CIO, but it also chose to endorse Hillary Clinton directly. The President of IBEW, Lonnie Stephenson, stated that the IBEW was supporting Hillary Clinton because she would strengthen the labor movement. The IBEW also made significant contributions to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Many of the residents of Carbon and Emery counties may have felt betrayed by these endorsements. With the closing of the Carbon Power Plant and the closing of all the union mines and many of the non-union mines in the area, it was difficult to see their union dues going to a campaign that was promising to further decimate the coal industry.

In the 2016 Presidential Election, the IBEW and UMWA were again faced with the reality that they had to support a candidate that was likely going to put its workers out of work. One more example of the division caused by the Presidential Election of 2016.


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