The Slatest

For a Union Man, Joe Biden Sure Has a Lot of Big Donors Who Aren’t Fond of Labor

Biden, wearing a rolled-up blue shirt, grips a lectern.
Joe Biden at a Teamsters local in Pittsburgh on April 29.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Biden would like to project that he is a friend of the working man. Look at the picture above, from his very first campaign event: Rolling up his sleeves and gripping the lectern to talk tough at a union hall in steel country. He’s also recently spoken at a rally in support of the Stop and Shop workers’ strike in Boston and been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

When he’s not doing campaign rallies, though, Biden has been doing some other stuff, like holding his first fundraiser at a mansion owned by the Comcast executive who supervises lobbying operations for the giant telecom company. Comcast’s lobbying division, in turn, works with the hugely influential American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes right-wing legislation—including “right to work,” “stand your ground” and voter-ID laws—on behalf of Republican state legislators. A canned quote from the Comcast exec who hosted Biden’s fundraiser actually shows up in a press release on ALEC’s website, while the New York Times recently wrote that Comcast’s relationship with organized labor “is often strained” and said it has “largely managed to fend off efforts by groups like the Communications Workers of America to organize its employees.” (Disclosure: I am a member of a union.)

This week, Biden held another fundraiser, this time hosted by a donor named Cynthia Telles at her at (large) Los Angeles home. Telles is on the board of directors of a Kaiser Permanente subsidiary that operates hospitals. (Her husband, Joe Waz, works as a “Senior Strategic Advisor” on “public policy and strategy” issues for … the Comcast Corporation.) That subsidiary is engaged in a dispute with mental health employees that has involved work stoppages in December and April, and some of the employees demonstrated outside Biden’s event:

The Los Angeles Times reported that Biden “did not interact with the protesters or address the demonstration in his remarks.”

The premise of Clinton-era Democratic politics, which was echoed to a lesser but still significant extent in Barack Obama’s administration, was that workers and executives could be on the same team, working together, for America. It’s a deal that has gone a lot better for executives than their employees, not just in terms of wages but also regarding issues that Biden’s big donors have direct interests in. It appears that Biden does not think he has to take sides, passing himself off as a friend of labor one day and getting money from a foe of labor on another. We’ll see if union voters agree.