AFL-CIO officially endorses Obama

The AFL-CIO officially endorsed Barack Obama for president on June 26.

In the statement issued with the endorsement, the General Board declared that Obama “secured the nomination of his party in a campaign that has energized millions of Americans and spoken to the hopes and dreams of people from every corner of our nation. His leadership can re-engage disenfranchised Americans and bring our country together. Sen. Obama has advocated a change of direction for our nation that mirrors the priorities of the labor movement.”

Announcing the endorsement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared, “Barack Obama has proven from his days as an organizer, to his time in the Senate and his historic run for the presidency, that he’s leading the fight to turn around America.” Sweeney described Obama as a “champion for working families who knows what it’s going to take to create an economy that works for everyone, not just Big Oil, Big Pharma, the insurance companies, the giant mortgage lenders, speculators and the very wealthy.”

The endorsement by the 10-million-member AFL-CIO puts virtually the entire organized labor movement behind the Obama candidacy. The 6-million-member Change-to-Win federation has already endorsed Obama. The unaffiliated National Education Association which, with its 3.5 million members the largest union in the country, says it will endorse Obama at its convention July 2-4.

Immediately after the federation announced its endorsement it launched a new “Meet Barack Obama” web site. The web site already has reports on Obama’s record, including his support for strikes and union organizing drives and his position on health care.

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, chairman of the AFL-CIO Political Committee, said the federation will “work our hearts out for Barack Obama. Our program is going to be worker to worker and neighbor to neighbor. We’re ready to mobilize. We’re ready to rock and roll. This country and our people are ready for change.” AFSCME endorsed Obama a week before the federation endorsed. It had backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

After the federation announcement United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said, “Sen. Obama’s plan to revitalize American manufacturing and his commitment to make workers the top priority in any trade agreement give our members hope that his election will lead the country in a new direction that’s long overdue, and inspire us to work as never before to secure his victory.

The AFL-CIO will give particular emphasis to work on the Obama campaigns in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It will also be involved in 60 House races and key Senate races. With activity planned too in gubernatorial and state legislative races, the federation will be involved in a total of more than 500 races nationally.

The plan is to put 250,000 volunteers into the field, make 300,000 home visits before Labor Day, make 300,000 phone calls and distribute more than 2 million fliers. The AFL-CIO has already distributed 1.5 million fliers to workers on the job, outlining John McCain’s anti-worker record. It has thus far mailed 500,000 letters outlining how McCain has, with his voting record, hurt workers.

Its member unions are expected to spend $200 million or more on the election effort this year. This is over and above $54 million that the federation has set aside for get-out-the vote, voter registration, and voter protection campaigns.

One of the major reasons labor is so enthusiastic about Obama is his support for what is perhaps the key issue for unions – the Employee Free Choice Act.

Were it to become law, the EFCA would help level the playing field between companies and workers in union organizing campaigns and in bargaining for initial contracts.

It would provide for automatic mandatory recognition of a union by the employer as soon as a majority of workers in a bargaining unit indicate their desire to be represented by the union. Workers would only have to sign a card expressing this desire, thus avoiding a prolonged campaign and “election” rigged by the company.

The EFCA passed in the Democratic controlled House but was killed by a GOP filibuster in the Senate. McCain backed that filibuster.

Other positive features of the proposed new law include stiffer fines for labor law breakers and an end to “captive audience” meetings at workplaces where employers, campaigning against union recognition, force workers to listen to anti-union propaganda under pain of job loss, with no opportunity for the pro-union position to be heard. McCain has said the fines violate the employer’s free speech rights while Obama has said this aspect of the law protects freedom of choice for workers.

The federation’s General Board, which made the Obama endorsement, consists of the presidents of unions in the AFL-CIO, and Executive Council members and representatives of state and local federations, trade departments and constituency groups.

Only one of the AFL-CIO’s 56 constituent unions, the Machinists, was not yet ready to go along with the federation’s endorsement. When the tally of the General Board members was taken, the Machinists voted “present.” Thomas Buffenbarger, the union’s president said, “I still have questions for Obama.” Buffenbarger’s union had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. The union took the unusual position of also endorsing a candidate in the Republican primary, Mike Huckabee. When Huckabee dropped out the Machinists did not endorse any other Republican. Since Clinton dropped out of the race they have not yet endorsed Obama.

Buffenbarger, who is a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, has changed his status, however, from a Clinton delegate to “Uncommitted.”

“Blue collar workers are born skeptics,” Buffenbarger said after the federation’s endorsement announcement. “Their skepticism grew during this campaign and to turn skeptics into supporters takes more than a perfunctory knock on the door of labor of the House of Labor.” Buffenbarger said he was “looking forward” to talks with Obama about policies “that can resonate with blue collar Democrats.”

Observers note that Obama has won the votes of blue collar workers, both Black and white, in many states and that in recent polls he is winning among these groups, including among white workers, even in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, states Clinton carried in the primaries. Obama has already won the backing of major unions with large numbers of white collar workers, including the Steelworkers, the Miners, Building and Construction workers and the Ironworkers.