President Obama’s relationship with blue-collar unions has hit an all-time low, with several powerful labor groups ripping into the administration — and the Democratic Party as a whole — for its rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and its promotion of the highly controversial trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Mr. Obama’s decision to reject Keystone on environmental grounds, which he announced Friday after a review process that lasted nearly seven years, deeply angered the president’s traditional supporters in the labor movement.
In addition to unprecedented verbal criticism of Mr. Obama — including from the Laborers’ International Union or North America, which branded the president “cowardly” and his actions “shameful” — other unions hinted that they may rethink their support for Democrats in 2016.
“President Obama has chosen to place politics over substantive policy that only serves to advance the agenda of well-funded radical environmentalists,” Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, said in a statement Friday. “All of which begs the question: Where does this leave the Democratic Party’s historical core constituency of working Americans? We won’t know the answer to that question until November 2016. But, to paraphrase Senator Ted Kennedy, for all those whose jobs have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, and the dream shall never die, and hope springs again in January of 2017.”
Mr. Obama, who has tried to cultivate close ties with labor leaders throughout his time in the White House, now finds himself in a situation where his relationship with some major unions is tense at best and fatally wounded at worst. In addition to the lambasting the administration has taken over Keystone, it is enduring equal criticism on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major trade deal involving the U.S. and 12 Pacific Rim nations.
The full text of the deal, which is opposed by many key figures in the Democratic Party, including 2016 presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, finally was released last week.
Major unions wasted little time publicly crushing it.
“Officials have talked about side deals and special arrangements that they say will improve the agreement,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said in a statement. “But they are unenforceable and won’t help protect the jobs of hardworking Americans. That’s why there is only one right answer for lawmakers when it comes to TPP. Just say no.”
Teamsters also launched a #TPPWorseThanWeThought campaign on Twitter seeking to rally opposition to the deal within the Democratic Party.
While the administration flat out rejects many criticisms of TPP — including that the deal’s labor standards aren’t strong enough — Mr. Obama took a slightly different tack when explaining why he blocked the Keystone pipeline.
The project — which would have crossed the U.S.-Canada boundary, connected with existing pipeline infrastructure and transported more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast — would have created more than 40,000 jobs, according to State Department research. Supporters argue it would have greatly enhanced North American energy security and potentially would have lowered U.S. gas prices.
But the president, while also casting doubt on the true job-creation potential of Keystone, made clear that his chief motivation for killing the project is to prove to the world that America will voluntarily lessen its reliance on fossil fuels and lead the world in the fight against climate change.
“Today we’re continuing to lead by example,” Mr. Obama said in a White House speech Friday, flanked by Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Secretary of State John F. Kerry. “Because, ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
From the perspective of some unions, the president’s decision proves he’s more interested in securing an environmental legacy than he is in creating jobs and boosting the economy.
“After a seven-year circus of cowardly delay, the president’s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline is just one more indication of an utter disdain and disregard for salt-of-the-earth, middle-class working Americans,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
“The politics he has played with their lives and livelihoods is far dirtier than oil carried by any pipeline in the world, and the cynical manipulation of the approval process has made a mockery of regulatory institutions and government itself. We are dismayed and disgusted that the president has once again thrown the members of LIUNA and other hard-working, blue-collar workers under the bus of his vaunted ‘legacy,’ while doing little or nothing to make a real difference in global climate change. His actions are shameful.”