- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The top Democrats in the presidential field courted organized labor yesterday, touting their health care plans and visions for economic security and supporting current union strikes.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who attended the Change to Win conference in Chicago along with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, had been expecting an endorsement from the Service Employees International Union yesterday but discovered that the union is still shopping for a candidate.

“For the SEIU, last time we didn’t endorse until November, so we want to wait a little longer to make an endorsement,” said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the 1.8 million-member organization and chairwoman of Change to Win.

In 2004, the SEIU endorsed Howard Dean and was somewhat embarrassed that, for the first time, its endorsement did not go to the eventual Democratic winner. The group is hesitant to take a similar leap for a candidate running third in both polls and fundraising.

“I assume the candidates will stand up for workers’ rights, but today is an opportunity to not just say something about the American Dream but do something about it,” she said.

She said different candidates have strong relationships with different unions — mentioning Mr. Edwards specifically as having a good relationship with most of her union, but she stressed that all are working through their own endorsement processes.

Two years after the SEIU and five other union groups split with the AFL-CIO, their growing political clout has become clear as the candidates push hard to secure their endorsements. Representing seven unions and 6 million workers, the Change to Win Federation is the most coveted union endorsement with members who are energized, organized and politically active.

The member unions include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, SEIU, Unite Here (which represents textile, hotel and restaurant workers), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the United Farm Workers of America and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Mr. Edwards was looking to get a boost from the labor endorsement before the third-quarter deadline for the campaigns to report how much they have raised and was clearly pressing the endorsement issue in his remarks, attacking the Clinton administration and Mrs. Clinton.

“Back in the ‘90s, when we had a Democratic Congress and we had a Democratic president, we didn’t get universal health care,” Mr. Edwards said and added, “No, instead we got NAFTA followed by CAFTA followed by a whole series of trade agreements that cost America millions of jobs.”

Mr. Obama most recently secured the endorsement of New York’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and supported the ongoing United Auto Workers‘ strike of General Motors.

“The demands the union is fighting for — job security, the health benefits they were promised — are things that all workers should expect and that UAW members deserve,” he said. “General Motors owes it to the UAW to come back to the bargaining table so that union members can go back to work.”

Mr. Edwards picked up endorsements from the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers of America on Monday and got the nod from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners last week, and he went further in his comments supporting the UAW.

“Sadly, the issues on the bargaining table between General Motors and the United Auto Workers are not unique to Detroit — they represent the larger failures of Washington and public policies that have weakened unions and the middle class,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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