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Biden’s executive actions pit blue collar unions vs progressive unions

President Joe Biden ran on a pro-union platform and has been called one of the most union-friendly presidents ever elected, but among his first actions as president were executive orders that will likely eliminate thousands of union jobs.

This week, Biden cancelled a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and he also put a 60 day moratorium on oil and gas leases on federal land, despite the unionized workers who would be put out of work by his actions.

He may have felt more justified in making the decision to cancel the Keystone pipeline permit after the union that represents the workers was sued for racial discrimination.

Through these initial actions, Biden may have shown which side of the union divide he would align with. 

Biden received an enormous amount of union support during the election, but there are tensions within the labor movement between the more progressive elements and those that represent the working class, which meant Biden would have to anger some union leaders while appeasing others when making decisions on issues like the environment.  

In recent years, progressives within the labor movement have joined with environmental groups to push for an agenda that is at odds with the needs of many blue-collar workers.

The number of blue-collar union workers has shrunk in recent years, while the number of typically white-collar public sector workers has grown.

As the numbers shift from private sector unions to public sector, national unions may feel more comfortable taking a harder line on progressive issues like environmentalism and identity politics than they have in the past, since public sector jobs aren’t put at risk because of these issues.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.