Michael Bloomberg’s labor platform is a stark shift from his record as New York City’s mayor and reflects a broader Democratic trend to the left on policies relating to unions.
Bloomberg last week endorsed planks that were far more pro-labor than what he previously supported, including a $15 federal minimum wage, ending all state right-to-work laws, and reclassifying workers for gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft to make them eligible to be organized. His campaign vows to “prioritize workers by removing barriers to union membership.”
Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1187, said that Bloomberg has changed dramatically from when his union used to work out contracts with him on behalf of 9,000 city school bus drivers. Local 1187 went on strike in 2013 when Bloomberg pressed school bus service contractors to rewrite their contracts with the union to reduce wages and benefits. Salaries for almost half of the drivers dropped from as high as $32 an hour to as low as $14 hour.
Bloomberg clashed frequently with other unions, repeatedly trying to reform city health benefits and pension plans to shift more costs to workers. He opposed legislation in 2009 that would have set the city minimum wage at $10.15. He once suggested he would fire half of the city’s teachers in order to “weed out all the bad ones” and then double the compensation for the rest.
“What he did then is the total opposite of what he is saying he will do now,” Cordiello told the Washington Examiner. “He caused a spiraling downward of wages and benefits.”
Bloomberg’s shift represents an effort to match where other Democratic presidential candidates are in the 2020 election, said Neil Sroka, spokesman for the liberal group Democracy for America.
“It’s where the values of the mainstream of the Democratic Party are today,” Sroka said. “It says more about the progressive values of the Democratic Party than it does about Mike Bloomberg.”
That mainstream is far more liberal than anything the party would have backed as recently as the Obama administration. The Obama administration only endorsed an $11 minimum wage, rather than the $15 wage floor supported by Bloomberg, and never sought to reverse right-to-work laws, which, in 27 states, mean that workers cannot be required to join or financially support a union.
The irony is that, if anybody could make the case that the party has gone too far on these issues, it would be the former New York City mayor, said Michael Saltsman, executive director of the conservative Employment Policies Institute. “Today, Mike Bloomberg has the opportunity to stand out in a field of candidates who appear historically hostile to business. It’s unfortunate that, with his labor plan, he chose to join the crowd,” Saltsman said.
Union support is crucial to Democrats. Labor poured $174 million into the 2018 election cycle alone, $60 million of which went to Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Bloomberg, a billionaire, doesn’t need the money. But opposition from unions would still damage him in the primaries since unions are a major part of most get-out-the-vote efforts and since they have the sympathy of other liberals.
As mayor, Bloomberg characterized unions as impediments to good government and applauded other state and local government leaders for taking similar stances. He even argued at the time there was a budding movement underway to reduce union power.
“More and more mayors and governors in both political parties are asking across the country, which is the first real sign of a crack in the ‘labor-electoral complex’ that has traditionally stymied reform,” Bloomberg said in 2013 in his final major speech as mayor.
Such talk is gone today. In a statement last week, Bloomberg endorsed the Democratic Party’s Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a collection of pro-union legislative items. “It’s past time to increase wages, guarantee paid leave, and make it easier to organize, and, as president, I’ll get it done,” Bloomberg vowed.
Bloomberg’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.