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Biden picks up endorsement of firefighters union as Trump blasts labor leaders

Former vice president Joe Biden is embraced at an event for the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington on March 12. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Former vice president Joe Biden won the backing Monday of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the first major union to offer an endorsement in the 2020 White House race, as President Trump accused labor leaders of ripping off their memberships.

The endorsement of Biden by the firefighters union was widely expected, as members held “Run Joe Run” signs when Biden addressed the group at a conference in Washington last month. But the announcement — by way of a video — offers Biden a boost as he prepares to hit the campaign trail Monday with a rally in Pittsburgh, where he is seeking to court the working class in a state carried by Trump in 2016.

The IAFF stayed out of the 2016 election, declining to endorse Democrat Hillary Clinton in her bid against Trump. The group’s decision for 2020 didn’t sit well with Trump, who took to Twitter a couple of hours after it was announced to blast the IAFF’s leadership as well as other labor leaders.

“The Dues Sucking firefighters leadership will always support Democrats, even though the membership wants me. Some things never change!” Trump wrote.

In another tweet, he referred to union leaders more broadly as “those people who rip-off their membership with ridiculously high dues, medical and other expenses while being paid a fortune.”

In the video released Monday morning, Harold Schaitberger, the IAFF’s general president, left no doubt about where the union stands this time.

“Joe’s a lot like our firefighters,” Schaitberger said. “He’s a problem solver who cares deeply about America and committed to making our country better. He’s one of the staunchest advocates for working families. He knows that a strong middle class means a strong America, and we know, as president, he will stand up for all the patriotic Americans who want nothing more than to earn a decent wage, send their kids to college, have affordable health care and a decent and secure retirement.”

Biden hints to firefighters gathering that White House bid is coming in ‘a few weeks’

Biden tweeted later Monday that he “couldn’t be more proud” to have the IAFF’s backing and said he was “sick of this President badmouthing unions.”

“Labor built the middle class in this country. Minimum wage, overtime pay, the 40-hour week: they exist for all of us because unions fought for those rights. We need a President who honors them and their work,” Biden wrote.

Biden had yet to announce his candidacy when he appeared before the IAFF in mid-March, but he seemed to tip his hand to the enthusiastic crowd.

“I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here,” he said upon taking the stage. “Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.”

Biden is expected to be joined in Pittsburgh on Monday by members of the United Steelworkers. The union’s president, Leo Gerard, told reporters recently that it will be “out in force.”

But other unions are holding back their endorsements for now, taking time to evaluate a field in which many candidates are seeking their support.

In other tweets Monday, Trump accused the “fake news” of pushing the candidacy of Biden, whom he once again dubbed “Sleepy Joe.”

Trump also noted that Biden was traveling to Pennsylvania, a state he said is “having one of the best economic years in its history.”

David Weigel contributed to this report.