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Bernie Sanders Earns Major Union Endorsements Ahead of Upcoming Primaries

January 16, 2020

By Steve Wishnia

“For decades, Senator Sanders has represented the interests of workers all across this country.” SEA/SEIU Local 1984 and the Clark County Education Association have both just endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.

CONCORD, N.H.—Two major unions in the four states with upcoming presidential primaries or caucuses have endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for President.

In New Hampshire, SEA/SEIU Local 1984, the state’s second-largest union, announced Jan. 12 it would back the Vermont senator in the Feb. 11 primary, as it did in 2016. In Nevada, the Clark County Education Association, which represents 19,000 teachers and school staff in Las Vegas, made its endorsement Jan. 14.

Local 1984, which has more than 10,000 members, praised Sanders for supporting its campaign to get Gov. Chris Sununu to give the state employees it represents a pay raise that isn’t eaten up by health-care cost increases. The candidate appeared at a union rally in Concord Dec. 27.

“For decades, Senator Sanders has represented the interests of workers all across this country, and during these past few months, he has taken the time to support SEA/SEIU Local 1984 specifically,” Local 1984 President Rich Gulla said in a statement. “Just recently, when he learned of the struggles that New Hampshire state employees who are without a contract are facing, he called a press conference to tell Governor Sununu to treat workers with respect.” 

Gulla had told Politico in late December that Local 1984 was staying neutral because its members were supporting too many candidates for it to narrow down its choice. The American Postal Workers Union of New Hampshire endorsed Sanders in early December, but the state International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which backed him in 2016, is so far neutral.

The national SEIU has also not backed a candidate. The National Association of Government Employees, a Massachusetts-based affiliate with more than 100,000 members, endorsed former Vice President Joseph Biden in December.

The Las Vegas teachers union said it picked Sanders after he was the top choice in a poll of its members who are registered Democrats. 

“Senator Sanders has a stellar record of supporting educators,” Clark County Education Association President Vikki Courtney said in a statement. “His position on public education issues is second to none. He has always been a champion for educators and working-class people. He has our support. He has spent time with our members and has made a firm commitment to advance public education in our country.” 

The Nevada caucuses will be held Feb. 22. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the state’s largest and most politically powerful union, has not endorsed anyone yet. It and its fellow UNITE HERE affiliate, Bartenders Union Local 165, are in the process of holding town-hall meetings with the Democratic candidates. 

The nation’s major unions are generally delaying committing themselves to a candidate, with many saying they want to give rank-and-file members more of a voice in the process. In 2016, most of them endorsed Hillary Clinton before any votes were cast in the primaries, including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.  

The CCEA, which split off from the NEA in 2018, is the second local teachers union to support Sanders, after the United Teachers Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest, in November. Two Massachusetts teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts and Boston Teachers Union Local 66, endorsed home-state Senator Elizabeth Warren on Jan. 13. 

“As a former educator, Senator Warren knows firsthand that we need bold action to support public education,” AFT-Massachusetts President Beth Kontos said in a statement. “She’s building a movement that can win in November and replace the failed Trump-DeVos education agenda with the pro-student, pro-public education plan our students need.”

Sanders said in the CCEA statement that he was proud that more teachers had contributed to his campaign than any other occupation. He vowed to “finally give teachers a much-deserved raise, reinvest in public education and create an education system that benefits students no matter their background or socioeconomic status.” 

The national unions that have made endorsements include the International Association of Fire Fighters, which announced its support for former Vice President Joseph Biden last April, and two for Sanders: National Nurses United and the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America. The California-based National Union of Healthcare Workers issued a dual endorsement of Sanders and Warren last September.

The United Farm Workers backed California Sen. Kamala Harris before she withdrew from the race in December.

January 16, 2020

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