Shortly after thanking dozens of trade union members and leaders for endorsing his reelection bid, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., stood near a wall-size mural of an overalls-clad working man gazing past the Pittsburgh skyline and concluded the 2024 election cycle could be summed up in one word: rights.

“If you and I were having this conversation, say, 15-20 years ago, and you were saying this election would be about women’s rights, workers’ rights and voting rights, I’d have said, ‘Well, that’s not where the election’s going to be because those rights are settled,’” Casey said. “But now those three rights are on the line, in this election.”

His specific focus on this day: workers’ rights. Dressed in jeans and a gray pullover, Casey made his argument to a friendly crowd — he was visiting the Plumbers Union Local 27 headquarters in North Fayette, a suburb west of Pittsburgh, to receive the endorsement of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council. The council supports 33 local unions representing a broad swath of workers, from carpenters to plasterers to electrical workers to bricklayers.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro introduced Casey and said the senator, seeking a fourth term, was “facing the battle of his career” in his campaign against Republican challenger David McCormick. The Pennsylvania race is lining up to be one of the nation’s most expensive. In fact, Shapiro said, the Keystone State will play a critical role in the 2024 election cycle.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say whoever wins the presidential race here in Pennsylvania is likely to be the next president,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say whoever wins this senate race in Pennsylvania is going to determine who’s in charge of the United States Senate.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., addresses members of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council as Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro listens at left. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Throughout a 15-minute speech, Casey reminded the audience of the contrasts between him and McCormick and between the Democratic and Republican parties. Casey noted his support for the Protect the Right to Organize Act, which would make it easier for workers to form and maintain their unions. The bill lacks the backing to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate. 

“It’s not just that they don’t support strengthening unions with the PRO Act,” he said of Republicans. “They’re trying to undermine unions every day of the week, trying to take away the right to organize. We have to stop them, not sit down and talk to them about it, not hold their hands about it — stop them from trying to destroy unions. … The right to organize is on the line.”

Casey listed a few ways in which his work in Washington, D.C., has benefited union members and working Americans. He mentioned his support for the Biden administration’s  infrastructure bill, as well as the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan, or COVID-19 stimulus package.

These bills, he said, helped families and created jobs.

“I’ve delivered for workers in this state, and I’ve had their back,” Casey said.

And again, he contrasted his votes with the positions of McCormick, a wealthy former hedge fund manager who has stated he’d roll back what he calls the Biden administration’s “incredible expensive” bills. He says those bills drive inflation.

Casey, however, pointed to the improvements resulting from the flow of federal funds he said he’d helped secure for rebuilding and upgrading roads, bridges and other sectors of Pittsburgh-area infrastructure. He listed, among others, the Fern Hollow Bridge, the Parkway East Bridge, the New Kensington Bridge, as well as lead pipe replacement in Wilkinsburg, West View and the city of Pittsburgh.

“We have never seen the investment we’ve seen from the federal government in the last three years,” Casey said.

He called out McCormick for his investments in China, which the senator described as a “predatory regime.” He mentioned a bill introduced by him and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would require the screening of U.S. investments in China to determine whether those investments undermine America’s national security or economy.

“I’m looking forward to a big fight and a big debate on who’s getting tough on China,” Casey said.

After the event, Casey explained the importance of endorsements by unions and labor organizations like the one that offered its support on Wednesday.

“A lot of the major issues we’re debating in this country — energy and how to build a clean energy economy, how to create jobs, how to push back against climate change and not leave workers behind — all of those dynamics are at play in the work that they do,” he said. “They bring a level of experience to these debates that sometimes politicians don’t have. So we benefit from learning from and listening to those members and those leaders in the trades.”

Casey said the Republican party has changed in recent years. At one time, he noted, Republican candidates for elected office would sometimes pick up labor support. That’s not the case today, he said. In fact, many of the Republican leaders in office when he was younger wouldn’t survive today’s GOP.

“If you’re not extreme right and MAGA right, they don’t even look at you,” he said.

Before Casey’s speech, two labor leaders spoke of their support for the senator.

Edward J. Bigley, business manager of Plumbers Union Local 27, said, “The building trades support candidates that support us” and called Casey “a champion of the working man, organized labor and more so the building trades.”

Greg Bernarding, business manager of the trade council, described Casey as “someone we can count on to have our backs. He has a proven record of fighting for workers including backing efforts to protect union jobs and successfully passing the bipartisan infrastructure law that is creating thousands of union jobs right here in Pennsylvania.”

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at