Edwards' Labor Pains: SEIU Opts for No Endorsement

By |

Sometimes no news is the worst news of all. SEIU, the high-growth service workers' union, announced today that it won't make a union-wide endorsement in the Democratic primary.

"Any one of these candidates would help create a new American dream for workers and their families," said SEIU honcho Anna Burger.

This is a true disapointment for Edwards campaign. The candidate has been working for this endorsement, hard, since the end of the 2004 campaign, walking pickets, joining hunger strikes, doing just about anything imaginable to win SEIU support.

I interviewed Burger for the profile of Edwards I wrote earlier this year. She confided that SEIU had a "special relationship" with Edwards:

He has always been willing to reach out in organizing campaigns. He was with us in Houston when we were organizing 5,000 janitors, which was a huge effort. He was also with us in Miami when we were organizing janitors and university workers at the University of Miami, where we were in a very long difficult struggle. He wasn't just making phone calls. He was on the picket lines.

All of the Democratic candidates came to the SEIU executive board in January. When John Edwards came in, someone asked him what kind of workers' struggles had he been involved in. And he started to list some. And then from around the room people kept on joining in, 'Oh, and you were here.' 'And you were here.' And it started adding up. There were more places than even he'd remembered. It was kind of a comical moment, when instead of a candidate having to answer, everyone else was.

He was also the first one who jumped up and said he wanted to do our "Walk a Day in Our Shoes" challenge — and immediately he was off talking with a nursing home worker who was struggling to make ends meet. He believes with a passion about the importance of unions as part of the solution for working people in our country. This is a true commitment on his part.

With his modest fundraising to finish the third quarter, and recent slippage in the polls in Iowa, Edwards really needed this kind of momentum booster.

The good news for Edwards fans is that he can still vie for state-by-state endorsements of SEIU locals. Speaking to the Edwards campaign today, they put a brave face on the union's decision, noting that SEIU Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina are now individually empowered to endorse their candidate. "This frees up our support within SEIU," said an Edwards insider. "Now they can go to bat for us."

The Edwards campaign also took pains to point out today's SEIU decision prevents workers from, say, Illinois — where Obama's endorsement is all but assured — from becoming foot soldiers in a pivotal early state like Iowa ... unless Iowa's SEIU local also endorses Obama.

So what if Iowa SEIU fails to endorse Edwards? "That would be troubling," said the insider.

x