Philadelphia– William Burger, a 45-year-old drywall finisher from a multi-generational union family, fits the profile of a voter Democrats have long counted on for steady support. But this year, he’s fed up and voting for Donald Trump.
“I don’t agree with the bullshit politics these guys [in the Democratic Party] are portraying,” Burger says. “They act like they’re doing something for us, and they’re not. They’re bending over backward for all the wrong reasons. … Almost every major city has been run Democratically, and they’re all broke.”
In Philadelphia alone, the GOP gained around 5,000 voters, says Joe DeFelice, chair of the Republican City Committee. He says union members, who suffered a rough recession and recovery, think Trump will be more effective economically.
“I think they feel he’ll create jobs,” DeFelice says. “Two, three years ago, I saw union guys in the neighborhood delivering pizza or taking side bar jobs to survive. … Philadelphia is a strong union town, but they are coming over.”
DeFelice says most of the union members feel Trump is also tougher on national security. Besides, his casino forays into nearby Atlantic City and reputation as an ’80s icon of wealth and success have endeared the Donald to them, he says. They not only like him; they aspire to be him.
Further tipping the scales toward Trump, DeFelice says, is Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as a running mate. As early as 2005, Kaine came out as a proponent of right-to-work legislation in Virginia, a policy anathema to organized labor. He’s also backed the Trans-Pacific Trade deal, which many union workers believe will result in lost jobs.
Clinton’s anti-coal positions, toughened under pressure from the Bernie Sanders far left, have also left many Pennsylvania union workers nervous. Earlier this year, she publicly stated “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?”
That enraged coal workers and worried industries that feed off the energy sector.
Mark Wuller, a Pennsylvanian railroad worker and local legislative representative with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, says the company he works for has already seen two railroad tunnels close as the coal industry diminishes.
“I think Trump is going to ease up on some of the regulations on the coal industry, and especially on fracking,” Wuller says. The industry is already heavily regulated and taxed, Wuller says, “and in my business, more taxes mean less trains, less men working.”
Nathan Benefield, vice president of the free-market Pennsylvania think tank the Commonwealth Foundation, says that while union leaders continue to back the Democratic party, their members are less inclined to fall in line.
“Trump’s rhetoric against free trade (and for tariffs) and against immigration lines up with the labor unions’ positions on these issues. … Regardless of whether protectionist polices will bring back jobs, [Pennsylvania] voters, including trades union members, are anxious about the economy.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.