The nation's pipe fitting and plumbing union is throwing its weight behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the race for the White House, despite the former vice president’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
The endorsement from the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters UA for short — comes as Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), are set to formally accept the Democratic nomination this week.
Mark McManus, the UA’s general president, acknowledged his union, which has 359,000 members in the United States and Canada, doesn’t see eye to eye with Biden on every issue but said the presumptive Democratic nominee is a longtime labor ally who wants to invest millions of dollars in water infrastructure projects that would employ its members.
Looking at the whole gamut of what the United Association does, the many tentacles that we have, the many issues in front of us for the next four years, we strongly endorsed” Biden, McManus said in an interview.
In a statement, Biden said he was “deeply honored” to get the endorsement.
I promise you this: if I’m elected, workers and unions will have the strongest friend they have ever had in the White House,” he added.
In May, Biden’s campaign announced that as president he would rescind permits issued by President Trump authorizing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. One of Trump’s first acts in office in 2017 was to revive the both the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, saying the jobs they would create would be a boost to the economy.
Biden's old boss, President Barack Obama, blocked completion of the pipeline at the behest of environmentalists concerned the crude oil conduit connecting Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries would exacerbate dependence on polluting fossil fuels.
The pipe fitters union was among several labor groups that lobbied the Obama administration to allow Keystone XL to be completed.
McManus said “the UA absolutely still supports” the pipeline. But the union, which also represents plumbers, sprinkler fitters, welders and service technicians, is encouraged by Biden’s call to replace lead pipes and upgrade outdated water treatment plants to stop drinking water pollution as part of his $2 trillion climate plan.
Last month, Biden released the most extensive plan for combating global warming from a major-party candidate to date, aiming to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2035.
He did not call for an outright ban on oil and gas extraction on state or private land, instead choosing to weigh a project’s contribution to climate change on a case-by-case basis when it needs federal approval.
And unlike some other Democrats that Biden beat in the primary, he supports investing in both the next generation of nuclear reactors and systems to capture and store carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere — both nascent technologies with the potential to employ UA workers.
The UA credited the Obama administration with providing a federal loan guarantee to cover part of the construction cost for building two new reactors in Georgia.
McManus, meanwhile, suggested Trump was mostly talk when it came to infrastructure spending, especially because the GOP had full control of Congress for two years.
Donald Trump said that he was going to have the biggest, hugest infrastructure package America has ever seen,” McManus said. “We’ve waited four years. We’ve come up with zero, quite frankly.”
Russ Breckenridge, the union’s director of legislative and political affairs, said members were also discouraged by efforts by Trump’s Labor Department to severely undermine and weaken union apprenticeship programs.”
The Biden campaign sought input from building trades unions in crafting its climate plan so as not to alienate blue-collar workers Democrats see as key to winning swing states.
Close to 80,000 active UA members — or about a quarter of the union’s U.S. membership — are based in eight battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The endorsement from the UA, which backed Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, further cements Biden’s support from labor groups, which he has heavily courted.
Biden also won the backing of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing electrical industry workers, as well as of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor union coalition.
At the same time, the former vice president set more aggressive emissions-cutting goals to win over younger, left-leaning voters who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and are skeptical of Biden’s candidacy.
Even if Trump wins reelection, some major oil pipeline projects may still struggle to move forward.
This year, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access conduits faced a round of legal defeats as environmental activists seek to delay the projects in the courts.