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AFL-CIO Schedules, Then Cancels Union Confab on Election Outcome

Oct. 21, 2020, 10:36 PM

The nation’s largest labor federation abruptly canceled a meeting where leaders of other large U.S. unions were scheduled to discuss responses to what could be a disputed election, according to officials familiar with the decision.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had quietly invited labor leaders to mull over scenarios for the election—namely, if President Donald Trump were to dispute a loss to former Vice President Joe Biden. But the meeting, scheduled for Friday, was abruptly canceled Wednesday after key details were leaked to the media.

“There is no Friday meeting,” Trumka said in a brief phone interview, declining to elaborate on the decision.

The remark came after NBC News was the first to report the meeting. An AFL-CIO spokesman declined to comment further.

The plans reflect a deepening concern among labor leaders that Trump may try to unfairly tilt the election in his favor, requiring the AFL-CIO to mobilize its 12.5 million members in resistance. Trumka’s invitation emailed to other labor leaders said Trump’s statements “pose a clear and present danger to the election, our democracy and the future of the country,” according to NBC.

That position is especially risky for Trumka 13 days before a presidential election, given the outside support from rank-and-file union members that propelled Trump to victory in 2016. Trump has repeatedly criticized union leaders while highlighting victories on trade and manufacturing to appeal to union workers, and accused Democrats, usually without evidence, of conspiring to steal the election.

Union leaders invited to the meeting were notified Wednesday that it had been postponed, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. It’s unclear when the meeting will be rescheduled, Weingarten said.

“There’s many of us that have talked about how we need to count every vote, how we are very concerned that the president—that you take his words seriously when he says he’s not sure he’d agree to the peaceful transfer of power,” Weingarten said. “And the labor movement is part of the community that needs to prepare.”

A union official who had seen Trumka’s invitation said the meeting was aimed at a variety of troubling election outcomes—and how to respond to each one.

“There are a bunch of scenarios that could go haywire, so it’s boiling all those down,” said the official, who requested anonymity to describe internal discussions. “Here’s what happened, here’s what we’re going to do.”

The official said the meeting was related to an AFL-CIO PowerPoint circulated on a conference call with state and local labor councils last week.

The presentation, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News, predicts that Trump will try to sway the election in his favor. For the first time, it says, “we cannot depend on our institutions to guarantee that our votes will determine the next president.”

The labor federation predicts that Biden will win the popular vote but will likely be behind on election night. The victor, it says, will hinge on results in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

—With assistance from Josh Eidelson (Bloomberg News)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at ikullgren@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com

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