Labor During the Primaries
AFL-CIO Organization:  A federation of 65 affiliated national unions.  The Executive Council, which oversees the daily work of the AFL-CIO, comprises 51 vice presidents and the three officers (President John Sweeney, Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson) who are elected in conventions held every four years.

"Never has the labor movement been more united in opposition to a sitting president."
AFL-CIO Executive Council Statement, August 2003

Path to An Endorsement
The AFL-CIO endorsement has a high threshhold; the General Board must approve a recommendation by a vote representing two-thirds of the AFL-CIO membership.  An early endorsement by the AFL-CIO has happened a couple of times in the past; most recently the AFL-CIO endorsed Vice President Al Gore on October 13, 1999.

During its winter meeting in Hollywood, FL on February 25-27, 2003, the Executive Council took several actions pertaining to the 2004 campaign, most notably approving a six-point mobilization plan, Labor 2004.  Labor 2004 includes registration of new voters, placement of field coordinators, communication to members, and continuing efforts to elect union members to public office.  Also approved was a new 527 organization, the Partnership for America's Families, to focus on mobilizing not union members but on "natural allies" including African Americans, Latinos and working women.  AFL-CIO President John Sweeney strongly condemned the Bush administration and vowed Labor 2004 will remove "out-of-touch political leaders." [Forging A Greater Political Voice For Working Families (Feb. 25, 2003). >>]

During the February 2003 meeting in Hollywood, the Executive Council outlined the AFL-CIO's initial views on a presidential endorsement and urged the 65 affiliated national unions that are part of the federation to hold off on endorsing a presidential candidate.  [Executive Council: AFL-CIO Endorsement Process, President and Vice President of the United States (Feb. 25, 2003). >> ]  There was considerable activity by the presidential candidates during the winter meeting.  Rep. Gephardt spoke by invitation; Sen. Edwards, Sen. Lieberman, Amb. Moseley Braun and Gov. Dean also put in appearances.

Despite the AFL-CIO's position, in the following months a number of affiliated unions went ahead and endorsed Gephardt.

Seeking to educate members about the candidates' views, the AFL-CIO presented them with a questionnaire containing questions grouped in eight areas--Good Jobs and a Strong National Economy, Health Care, Retirement Security, Education, Corporate Accountability, A Strong and Secure America, Civil and Human Rights, and Workers' Freedom to Form a Union.  All Democrats except Sen. Bob Graham and Amb. Carol Moseley Braun responded; President Bush did not respond.  On August 5, 2003 the AFL-CIO held a Working Families Presidential Forum in Chicago, IL in conjunction with its summer Executive Council meeting.  The event drew all nine Democratic candidates.

On August 6, the Executive Council took up the question of the AFL-CIO's presidential endorsement process for a second time.  There was much speculation at this time about whether Gephardt would be able to win the federation's endorsement.  However, the Executive Council instead put off the question of an endorsement, authorizing President John Sweeney to determine if "there is a suitable consensus in favor of one of the candidates" and, if so, to issue a call for a General Board meeting no later than October 15, 2003.  The Executive Council statement also noted that, "Never has the labor movement been more united in opposition to a sitting president."  [Executive Council: Presidential Endorsement Policy Statement (Aug. 6, 2003). >>Also on August 6, the Executive Council created Working America, "a neighborhood-based, membership organization affiliated with the labor movement as a national directly affiliated labor union...[to]...give working Americans who do not belong to unions the platform and the tools to join together and have their voices heard."

On September 30, 2003 President Sweeney announced in a statement that he had decided not to call for a General Board meeting.  The statement acknowledged "broad support" for Gephardt, but cited unions that "find that their members are still considering this issue and are not yet ready to have their union decide such an important question." [Sweeney: Statement on AFL-CIO Decision Not to Consider Presidential Primary Endorsement in October (Sept. 30, 2003).  >>]

Formation of the Alliance for Economic Justice
On October 16, 2003 representatives of twelve international unions (11 AFL-CIO affiliated), all backing Dick Gephardt, announced formation of the Alliance for Economic Justice, "a group of labor unions designed to promote the crucial issues of fair trade, job creation and affordable health care."  Donald J. Kaniewski, political director of LIUNA, said the group is a labor organization, not a political organization.  Asked about the group's support of Gephardt, Kaniewski stated, "We are not some Dick Gephardt front...that is not our sole purpose or our primary purpose."  The Alliance, which grew to comprise 18 unions, was funded by monthly assessment of the member unions (not on a per capita basis).  Kaniewski and Frank Voyack of the Ironworkers in Washington, DC filled the role of national staff.  Brett Voorhies, who previously served as national legislative and political coordinator for the United Steelworkers of America in Pittsburgh, directed the effort in Iowa starting around Labor Day 2003.  The Alliance ran a TV spot in Iowa focusing on NAFTA.  More significant was its mobilization of people; by January more than 500 activists from the Alliance unions were in Iowa doing house calls, phone banking and leafletting at plant gates.

Uniting Behind Kerry
As the Democratic nominating process opened in Iowa, Gephardt had the endorsements of 21 international unions, which he had picked up from April 9 to November 20, 2003 along with the support of the Alliance; Dean had secured the backing of three of the more politically active unions--IUPAT, SEIU and AFSCME, and Kerry had received the backing of the Fire Fighters, also a very politically active union, and the Utility Workers.

Gephardt did not fare well in the January 19 Iowa precinct caucuses and withdrew the next day.  Kerry did well in contest after contest, and on February 19, 2004 the General Board of the AFL-CIO voted without opposition, UNITE and UAW abstaining, to endorse him for president.  Kerry received the AFL-CIO endorsement at a rally in Washington, DC.  [General Board Statement: Senator John Kerry for President (Feb. 19, 2004). >>]

More Union Activity from 2003
State labor federations engaged the candidates during the Democratic primaries.

For example:

  • On August 13, 2003 the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO held a presidential forum during its convention in Waterloo.  Six Democratic candidates participated.
  • NH AFL-CIO organized a series of meetings with the Democratic candidates for President.  Secretary-Treasurer Bill Stetson stated, "The purpose is to expose union leadership (and interested members) to the candidates and let them ask questions about policies they would have if elected.  Also what legislation they would propose socially, economically and for working families."  About fifty union members attended the first forum, held on August 20, 2003 with Gov. Howard Dean, at the Plumbers and Steamfitters hall in Hooksett, NH.  Subsequent forums featured Sen. John Kerry (Aug. 28), Sen. John Edwards (Sept. 8), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Sept. 12), and Sen. Joe Lieberman (Sept. 25).  NH AFL-CIO was unable to schedule Rep. Dick Gephardt.  Amb. Carol Mosely Braun, Rev. Al Sharpton and Sen. Bob Graham were also invited.

  • International Unions Engaged the Candidates in a Variety of Ways.
    National Education Association
    NEA Organization: NEA policy is set in an annual Representative Assembly meeting held every July.  Executive officers are President Reg Weaver, Vice President Dennis Van Roekel, and Secretary Treasurer Lily Eskelsen.  There is a nine-person Executive Committee and a large Board of Directors.  NEA has affiliates in every state and more than 13,000 communities.  NEA's 2.7 million members include people working for public school districts, colleges or universities, or other public institutions devoted primarily to education. The NEA is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
    On January 22, 2003, NEA President Reg Weaver sent letters to the 2004 candidates for Democratic presidential inviting them to meet with him.  In the brief four-paragraph letter he wrote, "I am interested in meeting with you to discuss what role issues pertaining to children and public education will play in your quest to become the next president of the United States."  He noted that, "NEA has 2.7 million members who proudly exercise their civic responsibility to vote and who measure candidates based on their support of children, public schools and educators.  In addition, many of our members are quite politically active in their communities and states."

    However, the NEA's recommendation process did not fully get underway until the summer.  The key entity is the NEA's PAC Council, which includes the NEA's three executive officers, leaders of the state affiliates, and leaders of caucuses.  After the PAC Council's meeting on June 29, 2003, it sent out a questionnaire to viable candidates (the nine Democrats and President Bush).  The questionnaire has two parts. The first part goes to all candidates for federal office, and consists of 18 questions in 11 key issue areas such as ESEA funding and reform, state budget crisis, and vouchers. The second part has open-ended questions about the candidate's overall priorities and vision on public education.  Candidates were asked to return the questionnaire by July 31.  Candidates will then be asked to participate in one-on-one videotaped interviews with President Reg Weaver; each will be asked the same questions and the interviews will run less than 20 minutes.  The PAC Council will review the video and questionnaire results and a list of acceptable candidates produced by the end of the fall.  To make this list, a candidate must be recommended by Weaver and 58% of the PAC Council must concur.

    The NEA has a decentralized structure and state affiliates have the option of concurring with all, some, or none of the recommended candidates.  For example in the case of a home state candidate, the state affiliate may want to put its resources only behind that candidate, and it is permitted to do so.

    To secure an endorsement in the general election, a candidate must have support of 58% of the PAC Council, 58% of the Board of Directors, and, finally, 58% of the Representative Assembly.  The next Representative Assembly will meet in Washington, DC in late June or early July 2004, although this step could also be done by mail should the union want to move earlier.  (NEA's 2000 presidential recommendation process)

    Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) represents more than 32,000 members.  ISEA political action specialist Angie King outlined the organization's objectives for the caucuses:

    "Our aim for the caucuses will be making the connection to the classroom - how participating in the political process directly links to what teachers do every day at school.  At caucuses, our members can be messengers and advocates for public schools by drawing attention to the impact of state and federal legislation on Iowa's classrooms.  Our efforts to turn out our members will revolve mostly around issues since it's doubtful that we will support one individual candidate.  Leading up to caucuses we want our members to be knowledgeable about the candidates' positions on education issues important to us and we plan to facilitate the gathering of that information."
    For example, ISEA has provided the campaigns with contact information for its field staff, executive board members and regional (UniServe unit) presidents, so that if a candidate is in Ottumwa, for example, he or she can pick up the phone and get in touch with a local ISEA activist.  The campaigns likewise provide ISEA with their schedules.  Most of the candidates have met privately with ISEA leaders, some several times.  ISEA noted that the candidates were all going to be in state for the AFSCME town hall meeting on May 17, 2003 and scheduled an event immediately afterwards during ISEA PAC's regularly scheduled meeting in Altoona.  Five candidates--Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, Graham and Kucinich--appeared.  ISEA wanted to do something a bit different so it organized "classes" of nine or ten people, each with a different topic (No Child Left Behind, IDEA, health care, vouchers and privatization, and tax cuts/funding) and the candidates made the rounds.   ...May 19, 2003 interview with and May 21, 2003 e-mail from Angie King

    NEA New Hampshire, representing over 14,000 members, has the opportunity to "set the education tone and agenda" in the 2004 campaign said Director of Public Affairs Rick Trombly.  Trombly said NEA NH will make its members accessible to the candidates and will inform the candidates about the education issues in New Hampshire.  NEA NH invited all the candidates, as well as President Bush, Sen. Gregg and Gov. Benson to its annual meeting (Delegate Assembly) on March 21, 2003 in Manchester.  However, this was a couple of days after the beginning of the war in Iraq, and only Gov. Dean and Rep. Kucinich showed up.  Each spoke for about twenty minutes and took questions.  Sen. Graham, on the first day of his first trip to the New Hampshire, April 17, 2003, spoke to the Souhegan regional council meeting of the NH NEA in Manchester.  (NEA NH is organized into ten regions).  Candidates have also met individually with the NEA NH leadership--President Karen McDonough and Executive Director Terry Shumaker.  (Sen. Kerry at an Eastern Regional Meeting of the national NEA in Boston in early January 2003; Rev. Sharpton during his January 17, 2003 trip to NH; Gov. Dean has met with them; Sen. Edwards on his June 2, 2003 trip to NH; Sen. Graham had been scheduled to meet with them during a May 23, 2003 visit, but that was cancelled.)    ...based on May 15, 2003 interview with Rick Trombly   More>>

    American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
    AFSCME Organization: The International Executive Board, consisting of general officers International President Gerald W. McEntee, International Secretary-Treasurer William Lucy, and 31 regional vice presidents, guides the union between conventions.  AFSCME has about 3,500 local unions and affiliates in 47 states, DC and Puerto Rico organized in to 61 councils.  AFSCME's 1.4 million members include public service and health care workers.
    AFSCME started its presidential endorsement process with a high profile event, "Fighting for Working Families: An AFSCME Presidential Town Hall Meeting," which drew seven of the nine candidates to Des Moines, Iowa on May 17, 2003.  The candidates took questions from AFSCME members.  (Sen. Kerry connected via satellite from New Hampshire, and Sen. Lieberman did a pre-recorded interview).

    Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, is also political chairman of the AFL-CIO.  McEntee made some news on February 5, 2003, when, speaking to AP reporters and editors, he expressed his view that Sen. John Kerry had the best chance of beating President Bush.

    AFSCME was the first international to endorse then Gov. Bill Clinton in late 1991.

    Service Employees International Union
    SEIU Organization: Officers are President Andrew L. Stern, Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, Executive Vice President Patricia A. Ford, Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President Tom Woodruff.  Four divisions: health care, public services, building services, and industrial & allied.  There are more than 300 SEIU local affiliates and 25 state councils.  SEIU represents 1.5 million members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
    -Americans for Health Care--This project of the SEIU seeks to build coalitions and find  solutions that will lead to affordable, quality health care for all.  A major focus is campaigns in New Hampshire and Iowa "to make affordable, quality health care the central issue in the upcoming presidential election." The "purple people" have become a familiar sight on the campaign trail in these key states (>, >)  Modest resources are being put into a number of other states, such as Maine and Oregon.
    -Eight of the nine Democratic candidates addressed SEIU's 2003 Member Political Action Conference in Washington, DC on September 8, 2003.  Over 60 percent of the members at the conference were not ready for the union to make an endorsement, and the executive board, meeting on September 10, honored that recommendation. (statement)
    -SEIU plans an ambitious level of involvement in the 2004 campaign: 50,000 members volunteering their time, including 2004 members taking leave to work full-time for three to nine months, for a total of 165,000 total days; 7 million phone calls, 10 million doors, 6 million flyers, 6 mobile action centers, and 500,000 members voluntarily contributing.  SEIU COPE has launched a website "Fight for the Future" to educate members about the 2004 campaign.
    -Interview with with Paul Stokes President, Local 1984 SEIU-State Employees' Association of NH, Inc. (May 23, 2003)

    American Federation of Teachers
    AFT Organization: Officers are President Sandra Feldman, Secretary-Treasurer Edward J. McElroy, and Executive Vice President Nat LaCour.  AFT represents one million teachers, school support staff, higher education faculty and staff, health care professionals, and state and municipal employees.
    The AFT does not have as formal an endorsement procedure as the other national teacher's union, the NEA.  AFT leadership is trying to meet with as many of the candidates as possible.  The union has a 42-person Executive Council, comprising the three officers and 39 members from state and local affiliates.  In May 2003 Rep. Gephardt spoke to the Executive Council in New York; Sen. Lieberman spoke to the Executive Council in Washington, DC on July 9, 2003; and Sen. Kerry spoke at the AFT's biennial professional development conference in Washington, DC on July 10, 2003.

    New York State United Teachers, New York's largest union, held its annual Representative Assembly April 3-5, 2003 in Washington, DC.  On the second day of the convention, delegates heard from Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry, as well as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, much speculated upon as a possible 2008 candidate.  NYSUT, which claims 480,000 members, is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers of the AFL-CIO; Thomas Y. Hobart is president.

    Sheet Metal Workers' International Association
    Sheet Metal Workers' Organization: Officers are General President Michael J. Sullivan and General Secretary-Treasurer Thomas J. Kelly.  There are 11 General Vice Presidents.
    The Sheet Metal Workers held a Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA on August 11, 2003.

    United Food and Commercial Workers Union
    UFCW Organization: Officers are International President Douglas H. Dority, Secretary-Treasurer Joseph T. Hansen, and Executive Vice Presidents Sarah Palmer Amos,  Michael E. Leonard and Anthony M. Perrone.  UFCW represents 1.4 million members including grocery store clerks, food processors and health care workers.
    UFCW held a presidential candidates' forum on health care in San Francisco on July 31, 2003 during its Fifth Regular Convention.  Bill Press moderated.

    Communications Workers of America
    CWA Organization: Officers are President Morton Bahr, Secretary-Treasurer Barbara Easterling, and Executive Vice President Larry Cohen.
    Six of the Democratic candidates are scheduled to address delegates and guests during CWA's 65th annual convention at Chicago's Navy Pier on August 25-26, 2003.  (Aug. 25-Gephardt, Kucinich, Kerry.  Aug. 26-Dean, Lieberman, Moseley Braun).
    CWA ran a full-page ad in The State newspaper (Columbia, SC) on May 3, 2003 coinciding with the first Democratic presidential debate.

    Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
    The Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, which brings together 15 affiliate unions, held its 2003 Legislative Conference April 7-9 in Washington, DC.  Eight of the nine presidential candidates spoke at the presidential forum held on the last day of the conference.

    Some Unions Made Independent Expenditures.

    Organized Labor--Independent Expenditures 
    in the Democratic Primary Campaign
    Year End 2003, From FEC Reports
    Alliance for Economic Justice [Geph.]
    AFSCME [Dean]
    DRIVE (Teamsters) [Geph.]
    IAFF [Kerry]
    Boilermakers [Geph.]
    IUPAT [Dean]
    Take Back America-SEIU [Dean]
    Steelworkers [Geph.]


    2...  NEA New Hampshire President Karen McDonough, May 23, 2003.
    1...  Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers led by John Carr, IAM Local Lodge 1725 Vice President, demonstrate for jobs prior to the first Democratic presidential debate at USC in Columbia, SC on May 3, 2003.

    Copyright © 2003, 2004 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.