Union Endorsements and the 2016 Democratic Primary

A group called SEIU Members for Bernie has posted the following on a number of blogs, websites, and social-media pages. I found it on the blog Talking Union:

“The undersigned SEIU leaders, members, retirees and staff urge the International Executive Board not to make an early endorsement in the presidential primary campaign. We are supporters of Senator Sanders and believe his voice deserves to be heard. His campaign is drawing thousands into a movement around the very issues we support in our day-to-day organizing. To make an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton would put our union in direct opposition to this growing movement.

“Senator Sanders has an outstanding track record and is building a strong base of working people. Working against Sanders in the primaries will only alienate and confuse many SEIU members who are actively engaged in various movements, including the Fight for $15, immigration and higher education reform, Black Lives Matter, and many more progressive causes.

“By not making an early primary endorsement, SEIU can continue concentrating on our important organizing campaigns. This will also allow us to hold forums and debates that include all the candidates and address our issues as union members. Our strength and power in maximizing our endorsement lies in our work to build a social justice movement.

“We respectfully request that the International Executive Board of the Service Employees International Union not rush to a decision and holds off on making an early endorsement during the presidential primaries.

“Sign the petition. http://www.laborforbernie.org/seiu/

*union affiliations are for identification purposes only

This petition seems an effort to avoid what occurred several weeks ago when the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton after ostensibly surveying its members about their preferences. Many of the AFT members who support Bernie Sanders felt that the survey had been perfunctory and that endorsement had been premature—and they expressed those view quite loudly and vociferously.

Not coincidentally, while the Republican candidates were holding their first debate, Hillary Clinton was reported to have been meeting with the SEIU leadership.

As far as I can tell, the very crowded Republican primary field does not include a single candidate with a pro-Labor record.

So, it seems to me that Labor will not lose anything and may gain a great deal by letting the Democratic primary play out: that is, I agree with and would extend the core points being made by SEIU Members for Bernie.

First, avoiding endorsements will insure that the maximum number of politically active union members remain engaged in the electoral process. It will minimize the chances that large numbers of our members will feel cheated, marginalized, or ignored.

Second, avoiding early endorsements may keep labor issues more at the forefront as the general election approaches. In past election cycles, labor issues seem, perversely, to have receded from the national debate even as endorsements by unions were rolling in.

Organized labor may not be the national force that it once was, but it is still very important in some swing states, such as my own state of Ohio. If we do not demand any sort of strong commitments from the candidates who are supposed to share our values, we will end up with more of what we have gotten from the Obama administration, at least until Thomas Perez was named Secretary of Labor: that is, a lot of seemingly heartfelt thank you’s on the campaign trail and yet barely a shrug as Republican governors and legislators have attacked our right to exist while facetiously claiming to support the “right to work.”



2 thoughts on “Union Endorsements and the 2016 Democratic Primary

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