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Dem candidates court union voters

As the New York primary draws near, Sanders and Clinton are talking union and the dialog is good for all

Kris LaGrange's picture
Apr 12, 2016

With the New York Primary coming up on Tuesday, April 19th, Democrats are campaigning across the state trying to win every last vote.  NY’s high union density has meant talking union issues, holding rallies with organized labor and firing up the men and women who will be out knocking on doors and making phone calls leading up to the vote.

In Hillary Clinton’s “home” state, her relationships with union leaders have led to endorsements from some of the country’s biggest and most powerful unions, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.  On April 9th, Clinton addressed the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) in Rochester saying that she had teachers backs and outlined a new policy to find a “fair, balanced approach to testing” that decreases the focus on test preparation. You can watch her entire speech to NYSUT here.

Another key issue that Clinton has talked about was her leadership on post 9/11 responder bills.  “Our members rushed toward the wreckage to save as many lives as possible,” Lee Saunders, President of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said of why his Union is supporting Clinton, “She was right there, coming to our aid.”

Not to be outdone, Bernie Sanders has also garnered significant union support.  His endorsers include the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the National Nurses United (NNU), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), and political arm Working Families Party (WFP).  On the campaign trail, Sanders has been talking up bread and butter issues.  At a packed rally in Buffalo, Sanders spoke about the job killing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which cost the region thousands of jobs.  “I voted against every one of these disastrous agreements,” Sanders said. “Secretary Clinton supported virtually every trade policy.”

Sanders has also stood with CWA members who are going on strike April 13th.  He first attended a rally with put on by CWA 1109 and other NYC locals to support Bianca Cunningham, a fired Verizon wireless worker.  On April 6th, after speaking at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO convention, Sanders joined a CWA rally to tell the members that "it is not acceptable to me that when workers form a union and negotiate for an entire year they can't yet get a contract. That's not what democracy is supposed to be about. That's what rotten labor law is about, and we're going to change that." You can see his full speech here.

On April 11th, after the CWA announced that their Verizon workers would be going on strike, Sanders stopped by a local in Buffalo to rally the troops and let them know he was standing with them.  A classy move from a guy who has brought middle class issues to the forefront of the campaign in every state, not just the Empire State.

While much media coverage around this campaign has been focused on the petty division that this Presidential election has caused in the organized labor community, all these differences have forced both candidates to talk more about issues that affect union households, the middle class and the working poor.  Sanders has forced Clinton to talk about the dangers of free trade and the contested primary has forced Clinton to sit down and meet with union members not only in Iowa or New Hampshire but across the country.

The split is not the struggle that many in the media would have you believe.  Union outsider Ralph Nader released some nonsense a few days ago which read more like a soap opera and not a political column. Labor Federations always fight and argue during election season, and anyone with a brother or a sister can attest that no one fight likes family. As one SEIU official, who is supporting Clinton told the Daily News, “Obviously we admire and like Bernie. He also has been a strong champion of working people and unions for many years as a Vermont senator.” Regardless of who pulls out a win, all the unions, except the 16,000 strong border patrol agents union, will get behind the Democratic candidate to prevent Trump and Cruz from doing any more damage than they already have.

Brian Young contributed to this story.

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