AFL-CIO’s Challenge: Tempering Unions’ Embrace of Bernie Sanders
AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka is warning labor leaders to hold off on endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency, saying the federation’s bylaws specify that such endorsements are to be left up to the organization on a national level.
Trumka, in a memo sent out this week, reminded groups that they are not allowed to “endorse a presidential candidate” or even work on statements or resolutions that indicate a preference for any candidate, reports Politico. Further, he said that “personal statements” are also forbidden.
“Because in years past, and already this year, a number of questions have been raised,” Trumka said, “I want to remind you all that the AFL-CIO endorsement for president and vice president belongs to the national AFL-CIO.
“State federations, central and area labor councils, and all other subordinate bodies must follow the national AFL-CIO endorsement regarding president and vice president.”
Under the organization’s procedures on endorsement, a political committee makes its recommendation to the executive council in Washington, which then submits it for ratification by leaders of its member unions. A two-thirds majority is required to approve the endorsement.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO had sent out questionnaires to both Democrats and Republicans, with a Friday deadline, and plans to interview candidates during its July executive council meeting.
National union leaders, though, are drawn to the party’s more progressive side, represented by Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination, and groups in South Carolina and Sanders’ home state of Vermont have already passed resolutions that support him. Some union leaders in Iowa are also calling for a resolution to be passed at their convention in August to back Sanders.
In addition, reports Politico, there are more than 1,000 labor supporters, which includes local AFL-CIO leaders, who are part of a group called “Labor for Bernie,” which is calling on the nation’s union leaders to back Sanders.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO’s constituent unions are not to make endorsements while acting though local and regional divisions of the AFL-CIO, but are still allowed to make their own endorsements.
Jeff Johnson, the president of the AFL-CIO’s Washington State Labor Council, said he has not seen a memo like Trumka’s before. State leaders are aware of the national law, as the AFL-CIO’s endorsement decisions are made by the national leadership.
“There’s a lot of anxiety out there in the labor movement,” Johnson told Politico, agreeing that it is important for the overall group to endorse just one candidate. “We’re desperately searching for a candidate that actually speaks to working-class values. The Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders camp is very, very attractive to many of our members and to many of us as leaders, because they’re talking about the things that need to happen in this country.”
Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman also agreed that Trumka had to enforce the AFL-CIO’s bylaws, but still made a broad hint over who he supports.
“Bernie Sanders has spent his life actually fighting for working people,” Tolman told Politico. “He’s made no secret of it, and he’s used it as his mantra. And that I respect very much.”
When asked about Hillary Clinton, he replied: “Who? Who? Please. I mean with all respect, huh?”
The AFL-CIO endorsed President Barack Obama in March 2012, just before he locked down his renomination, but in 2008, the endorsement did not come until late June. In 2004, the federation endorsed now-Secretary of State John Kerry in February, while he was ahead in delegates but before he locked down the nomination.
Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), announced his own endorsement of Sanders in a Huffington Post opinion piece on Wednesday and told Politico that “across the country there is a huge surge of union members and of working-class people stepping up for Bernie.”
Cohen, CWA President Chris Shelton, and American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein are planning to host Sanders at the postal workers’ union next month, a day before national leaders are to meet with Clinton at the home of John Podesta, her campaign chairman.