Clinton, Sanders meet top union leaders

WASHINGTON – The two leading Democratic presidential contenders – at least in public polls – met behind closed doors July 13 and 14 with top union leaders to talk positions and strategy.

Unionists met separately with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt. The meetings occurred just after Clinton unveiled her economic blueprint, including pro-worker planks, in a New York speech.

And the meetings with Sanders at Postal Workers headquarters and at Clinton’s campaign manager’s D.C. house contrasted with the anti-worker anti-union bombast marking the formal presidential campaign debut of right wing Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis.

Walker opened his drive on July 13 by glorifying his efforts at trashing Wisconsin’s public workers unions, and after signing a state budget that weakened tenure protections for state universities’ professors and that cut the university system’s budget by $250 million.

Participants in the D.C. meetings with Clinton on July 14 and Sanders on July 13 declined to give details of what was discussed, saying those matters are confidential. But both candidates made positive impressions, they said.

Workers’ support is important to all presidential hopefuls, but especially to Democrats Clinton, Sanders, former Govs. Martin O’Malley (Md.) and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and former Sen. Jim Webb (Va.). That’s because unionists and their families not only turn out to vote, especially in presidential years, but they provide effective ground troops for campaigns.

“I think Bernie (Sanders) is voicing the concerns of average working people, completely free from the influence of the bankers, the brokers and the bastards,” said one union leader who attended Sanders’ session. But that leader also took pains to say Clinton qualifies, too.

“He (Sanders) is speaking to the anger people have, and proposing solutions,” the union president said. Among Sanders’ stands, he added: Opposing “the climate of budget austerity where we cannot do anything for the American people,” increasing Social Security payments and the system’s revenues and investing in rebuilding U.S. cities and infrastructure.

Clinton is addressing many of the same issues. Her closed-door session with the leaders was one day after her major economic speech in New York, where she declared “we have to build a growth and fairness economy.

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said. Points within that economy include:

  • Raising the wages of the middle class by, among other things, enacting paid family leave and other pro-family measures, such as raising the minimum wage. Low-paid workers “don’t need a lecture. They need a raise,” she said.
  • Strong union support. Clinton specifically denounced Walker on that, drawing a contrast with her own stands. Her prior pro-union statements were one reason the American Federation of Teachers board endorsed her two days before.

“Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers’ rights,” Clinton declared in New York. “I will fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who did not attend the closed-door meeting with Sanders, was more caustic about Walker, calling him “a national disgrace.”  

Photo: AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.