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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Nov 17, 2015, 3:42 pm

SEIU Endorses Hillary Clinton, But Rank-and-File Activists Say Push for Bernie Sanders Isn’t Over

BY Mario Vasquez

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Despite Bernie's history of supporting labor, many large unions are flocking to Hillary.   (Gregory Hausenstein / Flickr)

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced their endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign today, coming by way of a vote by their executive board.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement announcing the endorsement, “SEIU members and working families across America are part of a growing movement to build a better future for their families, and Hillary Clinton will support and stand with them.”

SEIU boasts close to 2 million members nationally and joins the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the dockworkers’ International Longshoremen’s Association and the National Education Association in endorsing Clinton, meaning that the former Secretary of State now holds endorsements from unions representing about 9.5 million union members.

SEIU’s endorsement came as the union shores up a national campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage with large actions last week—despite the fact that Clinton, as recently as the November 14 Democratic candidates’ debate, has said that she would rather support a $12 per hour minimum wage. Her Democratic primary opponents, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, have both endorsed SEIU’s Fight for $15 movement and the call for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

At the debate, Clinton’s main rival, Senator Sanders, pressed Clinton on the fact that her top campaign contributors were from Wall Street (leading to Clinton’s invoking 9/11). Sanders’ top contributors up until his presidential run were union members. But on the campaign trail, Sanders has found relatively little official support from major national unions, as thus far only the California-based National Nurses United and American Postal Workers Union have come to endorse his campaign for president. Instead, aided by a grassroots movement made up of rank-and-file union members called Labor for Bernie, Sanders has found most of his official labor support at the local level.

Rand Wilson, a leader in Labor for Bernie, said in a recent conference call for Sanders’ labor  supporters, “Some people on tonight’s call know that your union may have already made the endorsement for the other candidate. But regardless of any endorsement, the most important work right now is to keep building support for Sanders in your union at the local level.”

Currently, almost 30 different locals from across the country have endorsed Sanders, including eight locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and one SEIU local in New Hampshire. Sanders could still receive another major local endorsement from SEIU 1199, as Cole Stangler recently reported that their executive council has decided not to endorse any candidate for now.

Rodney Muhammad, an SEIU 1199 member in Massachusetts, echoed the contrasts between Clinton and Sanders that are often mentioned by Labor for Bernie supporters. “Being a union delegate and being deeply involved with the union, Bernie would have been the right person for the job. He’s pro-labor, he’s been on picket lines, he’s very proactive and he’s for $15 an hour. It just seems like Hillary Clinton has too many ties to Wall Street. She has not really done much to procure help for the unions over the past few years. The SEIU should have waited until after the primary to make an endorsement.”

During the 2008 election cycle, the union held off endorsing a candidate until primary season was almost over, endorsing then-Senator Barack Obama in February 2008. In fact, over the course of that Democratic party race, more SEIU locals endorsed John Edwards than both Clinton and Obama. As noted by Zaid Jilani, at this point in time in 2007, Obama was polling a few points below what Sanders is polling at now—meaning that any candidate’s viability is still very much in flux.

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Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz or email him at [email protected]

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