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Election 2016

Key Unions Campaigning Hard to Push Bernie Victory in Iowa

Unions hope to inspire high turnout at Iowa caucuses.

Photo Credit: http://www.nationalnursesunited.org

Though only 10 percent of Iowa’s workforce are union members, local shops from nationwide unions that have endorsed Bernie Sanders for president are hoping to sway other working-class voters who will attend next Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

While Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by more national unions than Sanders has, LaborRadio.org has noted that Sanders’ supporters in Iowa are unusually energized—including from unions that haven’t formally endorsed a presidential candidate.

“Unions like CWA [Communication Workers of America] and the United Postal Workers, which have endorsed Bernie, are… getting out the labor vote,” says the report. But “some unions, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have chosen not to endorse a candidate yet. Mike Olson serves as registrar for IBEW Local 405. He notes that among his members... 'Bernie Sanders seems to be getting their support.’”

That observation is not unique. Last fall, the Des Moines Register reported that both Sanders and Martin O’Malley were connecting with more union members than Clinton, quoting Ken Sagar, president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Iowa Federation of Labor. “I think Secretary Clinton has a job before her to fire up the troops, so to speak,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Sanders will appear at CWA headquarters in Des Moines for a “Labor Meeting with Bernie Sanders” and then participate in “caucus training” events with other unions that will include a “mock caucus.” That goes byond traditional union phone banking and get-out-the-vote efforts.

National Nurses United sent its bright red political tour bus to Iowa emblazoned with “Nurses Say Bernie for President” on its side, and has been holding organizing events with speakers like well-known commentator Jim Hightower and Chris Shelton, CWA’s national union president, “to remind voters of reasons why Sen. Bernie Sanders best reflects the values of nurses, workers, and community residents.”

Speaking at one rally, NNU co-president Jean Ross said endorsing Sanders was “very easy for us. Our values of caring, compassion and community are his values.” She then touted the latest news from the campaign, saying his “Medicare for all plan” was achievable. 

The Postal Workers’ union leaders in Iowa sent a letter to all members urging them to caucus and saying why they “encouraged” backing Sanders. “When we judge candidates for what they do—not by what they say and not by their labels—Senator Bernie Sanders stands head and shoulders above any other,” they wrote.

They said Sanders has fought to keep local post offices open, restore overnight delivery, oppose postal service privatization and many other issues important to union members.

“Bernie has a strong record of standing with workers on picket lines, fighting for a $15 per hour minimum wage, endorsing free public college tuition, advocating for veterans benefits, defending Social Security, promoting ‘Medicare for All,’ and opposing rotten trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP),” they wrote last week. 

While Clinton has more nationwide union endorsements, her supporters tend to be more labor leaders and officials and fewer rank-and-file members who are drawn to Sanders’ passion, the Des Moines Register reported.

The Sanders campaign is hoping that difference will help lead to a very high turnout on next Monday’s caucuses, where they hope to echo Barack Obama’s 2008 surprise victory over Clinton that was propelled by record-setting participation.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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