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Teamsters president will speak at the Republican National Convention

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CHAPIN, S.C. (AP) — The president of the Teamsters Union is set to speak at next month’s Republican National Convention, as Donald Trump angles to chip away at President Joe Biden’s support among the blue-collar workers who are expected to play a major role in the general election, particularly in crucial Midwestern swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump said that O’Brien had “accepted my invitation to speak at the RNC Convention in Milwaukee.”

Teamsters spokesperson Kara Deniz said Friday that O’Brien had requested a speaking slot at both major party conventions and accepted Trump’s invitation for the RNC, marking the first time a Teamsters president would speak at the GOP event. DNC officials did not immediately respond to whether O’Brien would speak at their event.

Trump has been trying to make inroads among Biden’s support among organized labor heading into the general election, as he works to win over the blue-collar workers who helped fuel his 2016 victory. Union members tend to vote Democratic, with 56% of members and households backing Biden in 2020, according to AP VoteCast.

In September, while his GOP rivals met for a debate, Trump traveled to Michigan and tried to win over autoworkers by lambasting Biden’s electric vehicles push in the midst of a strike. During his speech, Trump urged the United Auto Workers to endorse him, directly appealing to union president Shawn Fain — though he spoke from the floor of a nonunionized auto-parts plant.

Fain instead called Trump a “scab,” a derogatory term for workers who cross union picket lines and work during a strike, as he endorsed Biden. In January, Trump called on UAW members to oust Fain after the group endorsed Biden.

O’Brien meanwhile has met privately with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club, where the two discussed issues including right-to-work laws that allow those in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying dues and fees. After a roundtable with Teamster leaders in January, Trump called the event “a very productive meeting,” acknowledging that the union typically backs Democrats, but, referencing the possibility of an endorsement, “Stranger things have happened.”

O’Brien later described the roundtable conversation with Trump as “pleasant” and “direct” but said the union was a long way from making a decision. After meeting with Biden in March, O’Brien said the president has been “great” for workers but stressed that “there’s still a lot of work to be done” to bolster unions.

Biden — who has long billed himself as the most labor-friendly president in history, going so far as to turn up on a picket line in the Detroit area during the autoworkers strike last fall — has already received significant organized labor backing with early endorsements from the AFL-CIO and others. But Trump is hoping to cut into that support as he casts himself as pro-worker and tries to exacerbate divisions between union leaders and some rank-and-file members.

The Teamsters union represents 1.3 million workers, including UPS drivers, film and television workers, freight operators, members of law enforcement and other government workers.

It backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, although O’Brien has stressed that the union is keeping an open mind on endorsements this cycle. The group generally waits until after both parties’ summer nominating conventions to make a formal endorsement, and it will “most likely” do so again this year, once it polls its members, solicits rank-and-file input and reconvenes its leadership team, O’Brien has said.

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Associated Press writer Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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