Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders this week fought for support at a private union meeting that may prove critical to their campaigns.
“We spoke at length with each candidate about the Raising Wages agenda and were encouraged by our discussions,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “We will continue to make the case for Raising Wages, and look forward to ongoing discussions with the candidates and the further unfolding of the presidential campaign.”
The AFL-CIO hosted meeting between July 29-30 in Maryland as part of an ongoing effort by unions to determine what candidate to endorse. Though Sanders and Hillary are the likely choices, a few other candidates attended the meeting as well to make their case.
“We spoke with each of them for an hour, and had a genuine exchange of views on a wide variety of critical subjects,” Trumka continued. “The issues America faces are daunting, eclipsed only by our resolve to address them and put our country on a new path of shared prosperity.
The private meeting was important for several reasons. Unions wield considerable political influence and contribute significantly to those candidates they support. Though they usually support Democrats, lingering issues like trade have made them hesitant to endorse party frontrunner Clinton.
“That path is embodied in our Raising Wages agenda, which would rewrite our economic rules to put working people first,” Trumka added. “And keep them there.”
From rallies to extensive media campaigns, unions have helped make the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) an important campaign issue. The reluctance of Hillary to take a firm stance against the deal has opened the door to those like Sanders, a self-described socialist, to win union support.
“He stressed his opposition to job-killing trade deals starting with the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and including opposition to this year’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership,” his campaign noted in a press release. “With former Secretary of State Clinton’s reluctance to take a clear stand on the Pacific trade deal, the affiliation of unions was expected to withhold an endorsement at least for now.”
With the lack of press and public scrutiny, the meeting allowed labor leaders to grill Hillary on such issues. It also gave her the chance to defend her positions or lack thereof. Still though, many within the labor movement have already given up on her.
Outgoing Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen joined many smaller unions earlier in the month and endorsed Sanders. Cohen even said he plans to volunteer for his campaign.
Bernie has been quickly becoming the favorite among those in the labor movement. According to a source for the Washington Examiner inside the meeting, Sanders generated the most excitement. Despite being more aligned on issues, some union leaders fear Sanders may not be electable. The problem is one of the primary reasons Hillary is still in the running for union support.
“Personally, I love Bernie,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told MSNBC. “But what we need is we need to win.”
Despite his own union’s hesitance toward Hillary, last month Trumka sent a memo to the leaders of associated unions telling them not to endorse Sanders. Still though, other candidates are hopeful to outdo Hillary and Bernie both, and win over unions. Mike Huckabee, the only Republican candidate to attend the meeting, argued unions are not the enemy of the right.
“I won’t agree with the AFL-CIO on everything,” Huckabee wrote in an opinion piece for The Daily Caller. “But I do agree that American workers have been getting punched in the gut and kicked in the teeth.”
Nevertheless, the AFL-CIO and other unions could very well delay endorsing anyone. Trumka even hinted as much to reporters at the end of the meeting.
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