SAN DIEGO - Labor leaders arriving here for this week's executive council meeting of the 12 million-member AFL-CIO are declaring that unions will unite this year behind one candidate in the 2016 presidential elections. Those now backing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will work enthusiastically for Sen. Bernie Sanders if he wins the nomination and those now backing Sanders will do the same for Clinton, they say.
The federation is holding off on an endorsement at this time while some of its unions work for Clinton and others for Sanders. Many unions have yet to endorse a candidate.
"The decision not to endorse at this time should not be interpreted as a sign that we will not be united in a major effort to prevent the election of any of the Republican candidates," the federation's executive vice president, Tefere Gebre, told the Peoples World. "We always stick together when it comes to serving the needs of working people and we will do it again this year. Disagreements among us are even less this year than they sometimes have been in the past."
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is one of the major unions that is backing Clinton and has been turning out support for her in the recent caucuses and primaries. "I expect Hillary to win the nomination," Lee Saunders, the union's president, told the Peoples World "but there is no question that we would back Sanders if he won the nomination. It is unthinkable that our union could ever consider backing one of the Republicans."
The decision by the federation not to endorse does not mean the elections will not be a major topic at this week's meeting of the executive council. Election results from yesterday's caucuses in Nevada won by Clinton and the Republican primary in South Carolina won by businessman Donald Trump were the topic of conversation throughout the hallways and the lobbies of the Hilton Hotel today where the council will convene tomorrow.
In a statement February 17 Richard Trumka, the federation's president, said the AFL-CIO will follow its constitutional process which calls for unions representing two thirds of the federation's membership to endorse before the federation itself can even consider an endorsement.
"Everyone has a stake in the upcoming election," Trumka said, taking particular aim at GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
"Trump says he will build a wall. He says wages are too high. He says its ok to beat up protesters at his rallies and to ban people on the basis of their religion. He is dividing people."
Trumka said, "If we really want America to be great we have to have a big conversation. If Donald Trump really wants to talk to working people he should be telling us how he is going to raise wages, how jobs are going to be created and how college is to be made affordable."
Trumka said that unions are going to hold all candidates this election cycle accountable to the federation's raising wages agenda. "We are going to elevate that agenda even more during the elections," he said.
Photo: Hillary Clinton (left), Bernie Sanders (right) at a recent debate. | AP