Labor Supporters Want Sanders to Stay in Race, for Now

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By Chris Opfer and Michael Rose

June 9 — Hillary Clinton may have wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination and secured an endorsement from the current commander-in-chief, but Sen. Bernie Sanders's supporters in the labor community aren't ready for him to give up his White House bid just yet.

“I’m confident that Bernie is going to do all he can to unite the Democratic party and defeat Donald Trump,” National Union of Healthcare Workers President Sal Rosselli told Bloomberg BNA June 9. “But I think folks should give him a little space.”

The run of Sanders (I-Vt.) for the Democratic nomination has divided labor groups and helped push Clinton on issues critical to unions, such as trade policy, minimum wage and banking and investment reform.

Some of Sanders's labor supporters told Bloomberg BNA they'd like to see him ride that momentum to the Democratic convention to help shape the party's platform.

Rosselli said Sanders should at least stay in the race through the final primary contests, which wrap up June 14. He also left open the possibility that Sanders keep his hat in the ring through the party's convention July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

‘Still Absolutely Committed.'

Clinton is the presumptive nominee, following June 7 primary victories in California and New Jersey. She's been endorsed by a number of labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (see related story).

President Barack Obama June 9 also threw his support behind Clinton. “I don't think there's ever been someone so qualified to hold this office,” Obama said in a video released by the Clinton campaign.

Although Clinton has long been considered the favorite to snag the Democratic nomination, some of Sanders's supporters credit him with nudging her to come out in favor of a $15 minimum wage and against the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Sanders earned endorsements from National Nurses United, the NUHW, the Communications Workers of America and the American Postal Workers Union, among others.

NNU in August 2015 was the first national union to endorse Sanders (153 DLR A-15, 8/10/15) and has been among the candidate’s biggest supporters, campaigning for him in numerous primary election states with the help of a bright red “Bernie Bus.”

Ken Zinn, the union's political director, told Bloomberg BNA June 9 that NNU is “still absolutely committed to Bernie’s candidacy, as we have been from the beginning.”

“To us, that includes going to the convention as Bernie-pledged, to contest the convention, whether on the nomination, the platform or what the rules of the Democratic party will be in future elections,” Zinn said. He added that it would be “unfair to second guess or pre-empt” any decision by Sanders about whether or when to drop out of the race.

Representatives for the CWA didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's request for comment, and officials with two other unions that endorsed Sanders—the Amalgamated Transit Union and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union—declined to comment June 9.

Larger Movement

Sanders supporters in labor and elsewhere talk about the candidate as part of a larger social and political movement, aimed at giving a bigger voice to workers and their families.

“The movement behind the Sanders campaign underscores that working people want and deserve better than what they’re getting,” American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail June 9. “The campaign has uplifted the hopes and dreams of young people, workers, minorities and women.”

The NNU's Zinn and the NUHW's Rosselli said that movement is bigger than one candidate. The unions are co-sponsors of an event in Chicago later this month, the “People’s Summit,” where activists who were engaged by the Sanders campaign will determine what comes next.

Sanders's labor supporters are also hoping that the Democratic Party's platform—to be unveiled at the convention—will reflect some of the positions Sanders campaigned on, such as a single-payer health-care system.

The fact that Sanders has amassed “a very sizeable share” of pledged convention delegates “has to be reckoned with,” Zinn said, though he conceded that it was not a majority.

“A good question for some [members of the platform committee] is, do they want to have a candidate and a platform that speaks to the hopes and dreams of the American people?” Zinn said. “Or are they content to run on a platform of ‘I’m not Trump?’ ”

Writing on the Wall

Rand Wilson, organizer of the independent group Labor for Bernie and a pledged Sanders delegate from Massachusetts, acknowledged that it is highly unlikely that Sanders will be the Democratic nominee. He told Bloomberg BNA June 9 that Sanders supporters within organized labor are “still coming to terms with the end of the primary season.”

After the Washington, D.C., primary on June 14, “it’ll be officially over, and you can do the math,” Wilson said. “It’s unlikely that the appeal to superdelegates is going to be as convincing as we might have hoped” if Sanders had won the California primary.

Wilson added that he was proud of what Labor for Bernie and the Sanders campaign has accomplished, especially in pressuring Clinton to come out against the TPP.

Sanders supporters also could still help “set the table for future insurgencies in the Democratic party by talking about some changes in the rules that won’t help get Sen. Sanders elected, but might help somebody in the future,” he said.

Asked whether Labor for Bernie might urge union members to vote for Clinton in the general election, Wilson demurred.

“I think Labor for Bernie is labor for Bernie, and I envision the group sunsetting at the convention,” he said. “We did a lot,” including garnering support from various union locals, even if they were affiliates of national unions that endorsed Clinton, Wilson said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com Michael Rose in Washington at mrose@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com