Obama picks up another labor endorsement

February 21, 2008 3:09:17 PM PST
The new Change to Win labor federation gave its first presidential endorsement to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama on Thursday. The federation says its 6 million members could help push him over the top and into the general election as the Democratic nominee.

"We think we can make a difference," chair Anna Burger said.

"We think it's time to bring this nomination to a close."

The endorsement came after a teleconference between Change to Win's leaders and the heads of the seven unions that make up the federation. The federation's members will now head to the crucial election states of Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island for the upcoming March 4 primaries, as well as Pennsylvania on April 22.

Change to Win has 175,000 members in Ohio, 60,000 in Texas and 25,000 in Rhode Island, Burger said. Besides leafletting, knocking on doors and advocating for Obama at workplaces, Burger said she expected more than 100,000 Change to Win voters to participate in the Ohio primary alone.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost the last 11 presidential contests to Obama.

"There is certainly a movement building here," Burger said.

"The winds of change are blowing and they're blowing for Barack Obama."

The federation's endorsement was more about approving of Obama than disapproving of Clinton, Burger said, but she did note that NAFTA was passed while Clinton's husband, former President Clinton, was in office. Unions have been highly critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying it disproportionally hurt working-class voters. Clinton has become a NAFTA critic even though she has previously helped champion the measure as a product of her husband's presidency.

"Barack Obama has a history of standing up for working-class families," said Burger, who called him the strongest candidate for Democrats in the general election.

Four of Change to Win's unions already had endorsed Obama, with the Teamsters endorsing him Wednesday. UNITE HERE, the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers also have endorsed Obama.

The federation's endorsement now means those unions will coordinate their efforts for Obama and have access to Change to Win resources. "We think we can make a huge difference for him," Burger said.

The vote was unanimous although the United Farm Workers, the Laborers' International Union and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners had abstained. The farmworkers already had endorsed Clinton; the Carpenters originally endorsed John Edwards, who has dropped out, and the Laborers have yet to make an endorsement. The three unions released the federation to work for Obama in the upcoming primaries and caucuses.

"Everybody agreed it was time for us to move forward," Burger said. She noted that none of the abstaining unions objected to the endorsement and the United Farm Workers is based mostly in California, which voted on Feb. 5.

The Laborers union will survey its members next week to see if either candidate has support of 60 percent of the union, said Terence M. O'Sullivan, the union's president.

The unions in the Change to Win federation broke from the AFL-CIO in 2005 over internal disagreements on how best to build organized labor's membership and political clout.

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, has not endorsed any candidate in the Democratic primary, although it has allowed its 56 member unions to make individual endorsements. The AFL-CIO's executive council will meet in San Diego March 3-5, and a decision could be announced about whether the 10.5-million member federation will endorse.

Clinton has been endorsed by 12 AFL-CIO unions, as well as the United Farm Workers. Obama has been endorsed by three AFL-CIO unions: the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Transport Workers Union and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. He also has the backing of the independent National Weather Service Employees Organization.