Biden's rally with union workers marks first big event of his 2024 campaign

WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - JUNE 16: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the National Safer Communities Summit at the University of Hartford on June 16, 2023 in West Hartford, Connecticut. Biden addressed the continued gun violence epidemic in th

President Joe Biden is promoting his pro-labor record Saturday at his first major political rally of his reelection campaign, appearing before exuberant union members to make the case that his economic agenda is boosting the middle class.

He plans to "lay out the core principles of his economic message" during his remarks at the Philadelphia Convention Center, according to his campaign. He also intends to talk about how a sweeping climate, tax and health care package he signed into law last year has cut the cost of prescription drugs and lowered insurance premiums. It's part of his administration's focus on his achievements during his first two years in office — the centerpiece argument for a second term.

Hundreds of union workers standing inside the convention hall began chanting "Let's go, Joe!" and blowing whistles and hoisting campaign signs hours before Biden arrived. In the meantime, members of unions representing professions from carpenters to airport service workers to entertainers to heavy service equipment engineers praised Biden from the stage — some speaking in Spanish with translators.

The event, which organizers said included unions representing 18 million workers nationwide, recalled then-candidate Biden opening his 2020 presidential campaign at a union hall in Pittsburgh.

That underscores just how important labor support will be to his winning a second term. The president told reporters before he left Washington that he had met with business leaders on Friday and that corporate interests and "unions are beginning to work together."

"I’m excited about this is the beginning of something big," Biden said, "and we’ll begin changing the economic balance."

Several of the nation's most powerful unions — including the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — officially endorsed Biden's campaign on Friday. The first-of-its-kind joint endorsement among the unions and the backdrop of hundreds of workers are part of a meticulously choreographed effort to show the support of labor behind what Biden himself calls the most pro-union president in history.

"I’m saying that my philosophy about building from the middle out and the bottom up is working," Biden told reporters before a fundraiser in Connecticut on Friday evening.

The Philadelphia event also comes amid some encouraging economic news for Biden, with inflation cooling last month, continuing a steady decline in consumer prices primarily driven by lower gas prices, a smaller rise in grocery costs than in previous months and less expensive furniture, air fares and appliances.

The city and Pennsylvania have long been at the heart of Biden's political efforts. Philadelphia was the site of his campaign headquarters in 2020 and the state was one of a handful that had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but flipped back to Democrats four years later.

Until now, Biden’s primary campaign activity has been fundraising as the campaign tries to amass an impressive fundraising haul before the year's second quarter concludes at the end of the month. The president raised money at a private home in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Friday and soon will hold fundraisers in California, Maryland, Illinois and New York.

Before addressing the union gathering, Biden took a helicopter tour over the collapsed section of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia that has complicated traffic along one of the nation's most crowded highways.

Michael Smith, a 62-year-old retired electrician who was attending Saturday's rally in a T-shirt bearing the name and logo of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he liked Biden's chances of reelection next year because of his administration's championing green jobs and construction nationwide as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law Biden signed in 2021.

"You can see see how important that is with 95 going down," Smith said of the legislation, adding "That is a big factor in creating work and jobs. Not just for unions but for the middle class."

Another union member on hand, 53-year-old Jennifer McKinnon, a grade school librarian and member of the National Education Association, said she felt that Biden had a personal commitment to education because his wife, Jill, was a teacher who continued to teach English at a Northern Virginia community college as first lady.

"I'm very optimistic. I fear that the Republicans are going to get caught in their cycle that they did last time and people aren't going to buy it this time, so Joe's going to sweep right in," McKinnon said of the 2024 election, alluding to Donald Trump, who is the early front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Many in the crowd also said they thought the criminals cases in federal and New York courts against Trump could complicate his electoral pitch even though his message of economic populism resonated with some union members in the past. AP VoteCast, a sweeping survey of the 2020 electorate, found that about 6 in 10 self-identified union members supported Biden, a margin that outpaced Trump but was not commanding.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said part of the reason the AFT and other top unions endorsed Biden nearly 18 months before Election Day 2024 was to promote Biden’s economic record against Republican-championed cultural issues.

Clark Hamilton, a 63-year-old retired electrician said that Biden represents union values but noted that the president also sometimes "plays it like most politicians, in the middle." He referenced Biden urging Congress to helped prevent a rail strike last year, which the president said could cripple commerce nationwide.

"That’s a shame," Hamilton said. "But he was trying to save the economy."

Still, Hamilton said he's confident that Biden's record will secure him a second term net year "especially if it's against Trump."