Machinists Union Members Outraged Over Hillary Clinton Endorsement, Say They Want Bernie Sanders

Mario Vasquez

The IAM political action committee has been the Vermont Senator’s top campaign contributor for more than two decades. (Tiffany Von Arnim / Flickr / Creative Commons) (Penn State / Flickr / Creative Commons).

The Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Machin­ists and Aero­space Work­ers (IAM) announced Fri­day that it would endorse Hillary Clin­ton as its pre­ferred Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. The machin­ists are now the third AFL-CIO union to endorse a can­di­date, fol­low­ing Nation­al Nurs­es United’s endorse­ment of Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders four days ago and the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers’ Clin­ton endorse­ment on July 11.

The IAM will not sit on the side­lines while this fight is so clear­ly under­way,” said IAM Inter­na­tion­al Pres­i­dent Tom Buf­fen­barg­er in a press release. Hillary Clin­ton has been a strong sup­port­er of this union for years and she is now the tar­get of unprece­dent­ed attacks, financed on a scale nev­er seen before. The time to help is when help is need­ed most, and we intend to do just that.”

The IAM’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of their endorse­ment this ear­ly in the pres­i­den­tial race mir­rors the remarks made by AFT pres­i­dent Ran­di Wein­garten short­ly after her union’s endorse­ment. If you want to shape some­thing, you get in before the pri­maries,” she said. Like the AFT, the IAM endorse­ment was based large­ly on the results of an inter­nal sur­vey of mem­bers — a method that some mem­bers of the union have questioned.

I can­not describe how dis­ap­point­ed I am with the IAM endors­ing Hillary,” says Al Wag­n­er, a jour­ney­man auto tech­ni­cian and mem­ber of IAM Auto­mo­tive Mechan­ics Local 701 in Chica­go. The IAM is a great union and I am very proud to be a mem­ber. But the lead­ers went about this endorse­ment the wrong way.”

IAM boasts a mem­ber­ship roll of near­ly 600,000, includ­ing retirees, but says that an inter­nal sur­vey of 1,700 active mem­bers con­duct­ed in ear­ly August, in which 71% of par­tic­i­pants vot­ed for Clin­ton, proves that the Clin­ton endorse­ment is indica­tive of the rank and file’s desire for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race. But on the IAM Face­book page, with men­tions of Clinton’s asso­ci­a­tions with Wall Street and the fierce­ly unpop­u­lar free trade agree­ments abound, Bernie Sanders has been over­whelm­ing­ly tout­ed as the only tru­ly pro-work­er can­di­date by hun­dreds of mem­bers on the union’s endorse­ment posts.

Awful choice! I’m with Bernie,” wrote one per­son claim­ing to be a mem­ber on the union’s Face­book page. What a sham! Not in the least bit demo­c­ra­t­ic … – only 1700 out of 500,000 mem­bers is not a major­i­ty. … At month­ly meet­ings, mem­bers talk about the real voice of labor (Bernie Sanders) who BTW is beat­ing her in the CNN [poll] after every meet­ing. You guys need to wake up and lis­ten to your mem­bers,” wrote another.

Asked about the neg­a­tive reac­tion to the endorse­ment, IAM spokesper­son Frank Larkin told In These Times, The social media response can often be biased strong­ly in favor or against the union, depend­ing on the lev­el of coor­di­na­tion. We’re rely­ing on both the opin­ion and sen­ti­ments of mem­ber­ship at [the endorse­ment] meet­ing, as well as the results of the poll that reached out quite sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly to over 2,000 [sic] mem­bers that expressed strong sup­port for Sen­a­tor Clinton.”

Sanders’ pop­u­lar­i­ty — and the post-Clin­ton-endorse­ment out­cry — with­in IAM should not be sur­pris­ing. Since 1989, the union’s polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee has been the Ver­mont Senator’s top cam­paign con­trib­u­tor. Clin­ton, on the oth­er hand, is cur­rent­ly fac­ing all-time lows in her favor­a­bil­i­ty among vot­ers.

IAM pre­vi­ous­ly endorsed both Hillary Clin­ton and Mike Huck­abee in August 2007, choos­ing a rare dual endorse­ment in order to encour­age all of its mem­bers (an esti­mat­ed one-third of which are Repub­li­can) to turn out to vote. Of course, like the AFT, IAM endorsed then-Sen­a­tor Barack Oba­ma lat­er in Sep­tem­ber 2008 after the Demo­c­ra­t­ic race was firm­ly in Obama’s hands.

With Clin­ton still wide­ly con­sid­ered to be the front-run­ner of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, the IAM seems to be try­ing to avoid giv­ing an ear­ly endorse­ment, then lat­er hav­ing to reverse course when a dif­fer­ent can­di­date wins the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion as in 2008. But the union could instead hold what In These Times con­trib­u­tor Lois Wein­er pro­posed after the AFT’s 2016 Clin­ton endorsement:

We should pro­pose instead a deci­sion reached by a very dif­fer­ent process: a ref­er­en­dum of mem­bers that fol­lows and is informed by debate in union out­lets. Every local should be charged by the exec­u­tive coun­cil with pro­vid­ing space and place for mem­bers to air their opin­ions. … In this dis­cus­sion the lead­er­ship will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to per­suade mem­bers that endors­ing Clin­ton is the wis­est choice, but it will be oblig­at­ed to car­ry out the will of the mem­ber­ship as expressed in the referendum.

Whether or not the union’s sur­vey was indeed sci­en­tif­ic,” the IAM may have missed the chance to edu­cate and politi­cize its mem­ber­ship through a debate-dri­ven, demo­c­ra­t­ic endorse­ment process. 

The IAM is a spon­sor of In These Times. Spon­sors play no role in edi­to­r­i­al content.

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 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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