Iowa public employee unions rally for Clinton

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry joined the heads of other unions representing Iowa public employees in a rally here urging their members to vote for Hillary Clinton in the caucuses taking place February 1.

Participating in the rally, held in the Machinists Union Hall here, were some 300 union members who had spent the day canvassing for Clinton. Leading the rally, along with Henry, were AFSCME President Lee Saunders, AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

They were joined by former President Bill Clinton and former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

Clinton told the crowd that his wife has a proven record of “getting things done.” He cited the fact that she was instrumental in getting aid to the people of Flint, Mich., soon after it was discovered that their drinking water had been contaminated by lead.

In a podcast interview on the Axe Files, Henry explained why her union is supporting Hillary Clinton even though Clinton does not support SEIU’s campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15.

Henry said she believes Clinton can best appeal to the “64 percent of our public employee members [who] identify as conservative … .”

She said the SEIU is going into “hyperdrive” to stand up against Trump because she sees him as a real threat.

“This is a very dangerous political moment in our country,” Henry said

She said that Trump appeals to some of her members because of the “terrible anxiety” some people in the working class are experiencing.

“I think he’s touching this vein of the terrible anxiety that working-class people feel about their current status,” she said. “But more importantly, how terrified they are for their kids not being able to do as well as they have, never mind doing better.

“It’s easier to appeal to fear than to what’s possible,” Henry said.

Rank and file union members in Iowa disagree about whether Clinton or Senator Bernie Sanders can best counter Trump’s appeal to fear.

Although there are no polls comparing union support for Clinton and Sanders in Iowa, Ken Sager, president of the Iowa AFL-CIO, told Mother Jones magazine that “I know there’s a lot of rank-and-file people that like Bernie Sanders.

“The people that I have talked to think that he is very genuine in terms of supporting the issues that are important to workers and their families,” Sager says. “He talks about the things that will work in making a difference. Getting everybody to be involved.”

When speaking about Sanders, participants in the Clinton rally in the Machinists Hall all said “but” after they said they liked him.

For example, an NEA member, said “I like Bernie. I like what he has to say, but I think Hillary is far and above in knowledge.”

Also, an AFSCME member told us that “I think he [Bernie Sanders] means well, I think he’s got some good ideas, but I don’t think he’s got the fundamental background to get the job done. I don’t think he can do like Hillary and convince people to go his way.”

During the Clinton rally, Bill Clinton got standing ovation after standing ovation and the crowd applauded the union presidents many times.

Lance Coles, the communications director for the Iowa AFL-CIO told Mother Jones, “The Bernie [events] are like pep rallies. They’re much more, I don’t want to say agitated, but excited, there’s a lot more energy in their events.”

Photo: Larry Rubin/PW


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.

Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.