labor SEIU Battles Over Bernie
Driven by fears that the powerful SEIU labor union is close to announcing an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, a contingent of Bernie Sanders supporters within the union is petitioning the organization's international executive board to hold off on endorsing a candidate.
With SEIU’s executive committee set to meet in mid-September, a growing number of hard-core Sanders supporters have become more vocal about urging union brass to withhold a Democratic primary endorsement at this stage in the race. Close to 300 SEIU leaders, members, retirees and staff have signed the petition urging the union to hold off.
“[Sanders’] campaign is drawing thousands into a movement around the very issues we support in our day-to-day organizing,” the petition reads. “To make an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton would put our union in direct opposition to this growing movement ... [and] 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.”
Some SEIU members are publicly affiliated with a volunteer group called Labor for Bernie and worry that the union’s endorsement for Clinton would hamper their activities
“I’m sure that members and local staffers like myself are not going to be dissuaded from our enthusiasm for Sanders,” said Rand Wilson, communications director for SEIU local 888 in Boston, who volunteers for Labor for Bernie. “The union’s support for another candidate will definitely have an impact on the kinds of roles that we can play at the grass-roots level.” The SEIU's Sanders supporters say they back the Vermont senator because he has been a champion for their cause for his entire career.
An SEIU spokeswoman said the union has no timetable for an endorsement and is still in the process of engaging and polling its members on whom they support in the presidential race, and what issues they care about.
Top SEIU officials are also keenly aware of the revolt among rank-and-file teachers who publicly called on the American Federation of Teachers to withdraw its endorsement of Clinton last July, claiming there had been little internal discussion with teachers before the union backed Clinton. At one large local SEIU affiliate, staff were told to quell dissent from Sanders’ supporters, a labor source said.
With 2 million health care workers, public service workers and property services workers, including food service workers, SEIU represents powerful political muscle and is one of the biggest labor players in the race. The union has been leading the “Fight for 15,” to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
In the 2008 Democratic primary race, there was also disagreement at the local levels on which candidate to endorse. SEIU allowed local unions to endorse on a state-by-state basis in the fall of 2007. In February 2008, the executive board endorsed Barach Obama.
This time around, Clinton has been actively courting the union, hoping for its full backing.
Last June, she called in to a conference of fast-food workers in Chicago, and appeared to lend some support to their push for a $15 minimum wage without officially endorsing the campaign. “We have to stand firmly together and united on behalf of your right to organize, your right to bargain collectively, your right to fighting together for the higher wages that reflect the value of your work,” she said on the conference call. “For me, this is as important as anything else that I’m going to talk about in my campaign for president."
At a campaign stop in Los Angeles last month, she met with a small group of home health care workers and told them she supported improving their working conditions and boosting their wages.
An SEIU spokeswoman said the union’s core 2016 platform includes the fight to raise wages and a path to citizenship for immigrant families and that the endorsement process is fluid, with no dates set in stone.
For now, the union is taking its time in polling all of its members: The union has hosted national telephone town halls, in which over 50,000 members participated, and conducted national member polls as well, officials said.
Some SEIU officials have warned that the Sanders faction is only a vocal minority among union members. Internal polls show Clinton coming out on top, SEIU officials told POLITICO — 75 percent of members felt favorable about her, when compared with other Democratic candidates.