How The Biggest Unions Might Have Missed The Boat For Election 2016


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With the presidential election well underway, the few remaining national unions who haven’t yet endorsed a candidate may have missed their chance to be truly impactful.

The AFL-CIO, Teamsters and the United Auto Workers (UAW), a few of the most powerful, are also among the last few remaining national unions to have not yet endorsed a presidential candidate. Despite their influence, the unions may have missed their chance to have a significant impact on the election with voters already starting to decide who to support.

“Even if they endorsed tomorrow I don’t think it would significantly change the likely outcome,” University of California, Berkeley, Assistant Research Director Terri Bimes told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They can still give money to candidates so that can help, they can provide key canvassers, people that can go knock on doors, try to get people out maybe. Its not going to change Republicans to be Democrats, but people who are moderates might be influenced.”

A big political endorsement could have significant sway in a highly competitive primary, but less so in the general election because people tend to vote more along party lines.

“In the presidential election there are two different phases,” University of Michigan Professor Michael Traugott told TheDCNF. “They will have a different impacts depending on the phase of the election.”

The primaries are already well underway and the likely picks from each party are starting to be carved in stone. The unions could have some influence in the general, but mostly among moderates who have not yet made their decision. Bimes adds they could also try to convince supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to endorse Hillary Clinton in the general election.

“I don’t think at this point they’re going to have much of an impact on the Democratic primary mainly because the die has already been cast,” George Washington University Professor Matt Dallek told TheDCNF.

Clinton has been able to win overwhelming support among national unions, but for individual members its been far less clear. Sanders won local support early in his campaign but the momentum died when it came to national unions deciding who to back. The AFL-CIO, Teamsters and UAW may have avoided alienating their members by not endorsing when the other unions did.

“I think its always problematic if a union goes one way yet its locals and members go another,” Dallek also noted. “Then you have a real disconnect. So I think the national unions didn’t want to get too far out ahead from where the local membership was and I think its smart they are paying attention to their constituents.”

While Sanders has been more aligned with the labor movement politically some union leaders expressed concern he was not electable compared to Clinton. Some national unions even appeared to be waiting to see if Vice President Joe Biden would enter the race, only backing Clinton once it became clear he wouldn’t be.

“There certainty is the the possibility that those who have not endorsed don’t want to marginalize their members,” University of Northern Iowa Professor Donna Hoffman told TheDCNF. “Unions are always very strategic about how they go about their endorsement.”

Sanders supports a national $15 minimum wage while Clinton argues it should not exceed $12 an hour. She does support states deciding for themselves whether to go higher. Clinton was also much more hesitant to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which unions have claimed would allow corporations to outsource more jobs.

“You probably alienate less people by delaying your endorsement,” Bimes said. “Are you going to take a position where you endorse Bernie Sanders at the risk of alienating Hillary Clinton who most likely will be the candidate for the Democratic party. So given that calculation I think that is what the unions are doing.”

Close to two dozen national unions released a statement Feb. 22 claiming the vast majority of their members support Clinton. The union coalition Labor for Bernie, however, states the support is due more to undemocratic decision-making than what members actually think. Nevertheless the pressure from Sanders supporters and unions may have pushed Clinton to be more like him.

“It might give them a little more clout especially since they had a candidate in Bernie Sanders they could have gone to and in that sense Hillary Clinton had to pay attention to them so they wouldn’t endorse her rival,” Dallek said. “I think they’re sending a signal to her that she has to work to get their endorsement and she can’t assume she’s just going to have their support.”

Clinton won her biggest union endorsement Nov. 17 from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). She has also been able to secure support from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the American Federation of Teachers among others.

Sanders has still done well among the labor movement. While his early momentum slowed when it came to large unions he has still snagged notable endorsements. He won his biggest union endorsement Dec. 17 from the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The United Electrical Workers and the National Nurses United have also decided to support him.

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