Hillary Clinton scored a major victory this past week by gaining the endorsement of SEIU, the healthcare workers union that represents over 2 million workers. That bumped the total membership of unions backing her candidacy to nearly 11 million. With the endorsements of 14 labor unions so far, including the heavyweights of AFSCME, the NEA and SEIU, Clinton has dominated the race for labor support. Most notably, several unions on her list either back Obama or Edwards in 2008, or stayed neutral.
Clinton touts a shared agenda with the labor movement, and her campaign highlights her 94% lifetime voting record with the AFL-CIO, along with her past sponsorship of the Employee Free Choice Act and co-sponsorship of Ted Kennedy’s Overtime Compensation Protection Act.
Labor’s presence in support of Clinton has been increasingly visible the past several months. They were some of her loudest cheerers at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in October, with seats right near the stage. AFSCME is in the process of opening a number of AFSCME for Hillary field offices around the state to organize their members to caucus for Clinton.
Sanders secured the endorsements of two major unions so far: the Postal Workers Union and the National Nurses United union. The Postal Workers represent more than 250,000 members; Nurses United have around 185,000 members. The nurses union have already joined Sanders on the campaign trail, leading a march of Sanders supporters nearby Drake’s campus during last week’s Democratic debate there.
A few major outstanding unions yet to make their decision include the UFCW and Teamsters, who backed Obama in 2008. The transit unions of ATU and UTU, along with the office professionals union of OPEIU, which all supported Clinton in 2008, also haven’t weighed in yet. Another major undecided is the Steelworkers, who originally backed John Edwards in September 2007, then switched to Obama in May 2008. The Firefighters union, always a sought-after prize (they endorsed Dodd for 2008), also remains unaligned. And of course there’s the AFL-CIO, which remained neutral in 2008 for the primary, and cautioned some of its locals from backing Sanders early on this cycle.
To get a sense of Clinton’s strength with labor, here is a list of all her endorsements so far this year (in order of when they endorsed), compared to who they backed in the 2008 cycle and when:
American Federation of Teachers – 1.6 million members, endorsed 7/11/15
2008: Clinton, endorsed 10/12/07
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) – 650,000 Members, endorsed 8/14/15
2008: Clinton, endorsed 8/30/07
The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers – 75,000 Members, endorsed 9/9/15
2008: Clinton, endorsed 9/28/07
UA: Plumbers and Pipefitters – 340,000 Members, endorsed 9/14/15
2008: Obama, endorsed 1/9/08
United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers – 22,000 Members, endorsed 9/17/15
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America – 500,000 Members, endorsed 9/22/15
2008: Edwards, endorsed 8/30/07
The Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA) – 40,000 Members, endorsed 9/29/15
2008: Clinton, 4/16/08
National Education Association (NEA) – 3 Million Members, endorsed 10/3/15
2008: No endorsement in primary
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) – 160,000 Members, endorsed 10/14/15
2008: Clinton, endorsed 12/19/07
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – 1.6 Million, endorsed 10/23/15
2008: Clinton, endorsed 10/31/07
International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) – 400,000 Members, endorsed 10/28/15
2008: ? (I believe they did not endorse in 2008, but can’t find documentation)
International Longshoreman Association – 65,000 Members
2008: No endorsement in primary
SEIU – 2 Million Members, endorsed 11/17/15
2008: Obama, endorsed 2/15/08
Ironworkers – 125,000 members, endorsed 11/23/15
2008: No endorsement in primary
The lopsided support for Clinton among labor must be incredibly frustrating for Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Sanders has repeatedly emphasized his longtime support for their priorities, like opposing unfair trade deals, raising the minimum wage, increasing restrictions and regulations on Wall Street and supporting labor organizing rights. He’s reached out to unions early and often throughout his campaign, including attending a labor informational picket line in Cedar Rapids back in September. His campaign must be left wondering what else they possibly could have done. Their hope lies with many rank-and-file members bucking their leaders’ choice and caucusing for Sanders anyway (something we’ve seen evidence of at events).
It is also a legitimate question for labor leadership over their backing of Clinton, the one candidate of three who doesn’t support a nationwide $15/hour minimum wage (she does support state or localities if they wish to push for $15/hour). SEIU has made the “Fight for 15” mission their key issue of late.
One can make the case that backing Clinton, an experienced fighter most likely to obtain the nomination, paves the best path to actually accomplishing many – though perhaps not all – of their priorities. A strategic choice, but still one full of real potential – Clinton, despite her detractors’ protests, is not a sell-out on these issues (even if she isn’t quite as bold as Sanders or O’Malley on several specifics).
The other option lies with Sanders, whose campaign could strengthen your policy issues within the party and progressives, furthering your movement in the long-run. He’s already pulled Clinton to the left on a number of topics; throwing your lot in with the Vermont senator might show the party establishment that these positions are non-negotiable and have the same impact for the entire party.
Both are legitimate strategies. Why this one over the other, however, remains a debatable point, even if labor seems to have already largely made its choice this cycle. If Clinton is elected and pushes hard for labor priorities, labor leadership will be vindicated. If she falls short in the general election, or if she swings to the middle – especially on trade deals – once in office, it could cause huge upheaval among the labor movement.
For right now, Clinton will enjoy the full benefits of many of labor’s most active and well-financed unions. Their influence in the early states will prove helpful, but they may come even more into play once the primary race goes national and the Clinton and Sanders campaigns have to quickly build operations in later states. Having the infrastructure of unions there already in place will give Clinton a huge leg-up down the stretch of the campaign.
by Pat Rynard