Not All Labor Leaders Happy With AFL-CIO’s Obama Endorsement

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Last May, AFL-CIO President Trumka declared labor’s political independence by pledging to use the power of Super PACS to reach out to nonunion voters and build labor’s own political organization and message outside of the Democratic Party. Yesterday, the leaders of the labor federation unanimously endorsed President Obama for re-election, saying he “has moved aggressively to protect workers’ rights, pay and health and safety on the job.” (See David Moberg’s story here.)

“There’s not a lot of choice here, that’s the sad part of this,” says Matt McKinnon, political and legislative director of the Machinists union (IAM), which is affiliated with AFL-CIO and endorsed the president earlier this year. “He’s been a disappointment in several areas, but he came through with some decent appointees.”

The expected endorsement represents the reality that organized labor leaders still feel trapped in a two-party system, with a not-always labor-friendly Democratic Party on one side and a downright hostile Republican Party on the other. This tension continues despite the endorsement, as witnessed by the fact that the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO is continuing its boycott of the Democratic National Convention. The boycott was called because the DNC is being held this September in largely nonunion facilities in one of the most poorly unionized states in the country: North Carolina.

A few labor leaders are complaining that the way the AFL-CIO handled the endorsement does not represent a new trend in “political independence” for the labor movement, but rather a return to business as usual. The endorsement came relatively early—before the Republican primary season has even ended and nearly six months before the DNC in Charlotte. (It endorsed Obama for election in June 2008, but endorsed John Kerry in February 2004.)