The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) announced its endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign on Monday, after its executive board voted to endorse the Democratic Party candidate from Vermont. Larry Hanley, international union president, told In These Times that although membership is divided on a candidate, he also believes “there’s been an increasing shift [among members] towards Bernie, just as there has been with the public over the last 6 months.”
Hanley says details about the debate and subsequent vote by the executive board won’t be released to the public, but added, “Clearly, the issues of concern to our members are the issues that Bernie has championed.It was based on that more than anything, as well as some consensus building from across the country, that our executive board voted in favor of this endorsement.”
The 200,000 member-large ATU now joins the National Nurses United, the Communications Workers of America and the American Postal Workers Union in endorsingSanders, with up to 90 local and regional labor councils having done the same. Many rank-and-file members behind these local efforts stem from Labor for Bernie, a network for union supporters of Sanders started last year to build support for Sanders endorsements throughout the country. Hillary Clinton has meanwhile won endorsements from several of the largest unions and most influential unions in the country, including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
In an ATU statement released on Monday, Hanley said, “The Labor Movement owes Senator Sanders so much for his consistent opposition to right-wing programs and his championing of first-rate healthcare for all — which is already the global standard.” Hanley addressed the criticism against Sanders for his policy proposals, saying,
We reject the idea that these vital programs are unattainable and resent the notion that we as a country can afford unlimited and unquestioned expenses for war, but must withstand the Tea Party Test on every investment in our own people. The attempt to belittle what so many of us believe in and what Senator Sanders has brought to the national stage is antithetical to the progressive history of the Democratic Party.
In a September 2015 national union town hall set up by Labor for Bernie, Hanley told listeners,
Our members share the Senator’s anger throughout this country. We have struggles going on in places like Boston where the Democrats are trying to privatize transit. We’re getting kicked in the face, often by Democrats, always by Republicans, but certainly we’re going to give the Senator an opportunity to reach our members.
The ATU’s attempt to reach their members was large enough that in one message to members a union spokesperson admitted, “This is the first time in my life that the Union has directly asked all members to tell us what they think on an issue.” Hanley reportedly previously told the Huffington Post that they were making a conscious decision to wait before endorsing, saying, “We think that until people campaign, you don’t get a good sense of how they’ll govern. In fairness to all the candidates and our members, we thought it was important that we wait and watch and hear what the candidates have to say and how they come out on positions.”
Strong electoral results in favor of Sanders has helped stave off an endorsement from the AFL-CIO. Hanley says that the ATU, the largest transit union in the country, will now begin doing mobilization work for campaigning in the primaries and caucuses to come.
Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz.