Cal­i­for­nia work­ers have the power to help pick a presidenti­al nom­i­nee

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY EMILY CADEI [email protected]­clatchydc.com

Cal­i­for­nia’s most pow­er­ful la­bor unions will de­fer to their na­tional lead­er­ship in de­cid­ing any 2020 presidenti­al en­dorse­ment. But that doesn’t mean the state’s work­ers won’t have a say.

From the Ser­vices Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union to the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, Cal­i­for­ni­ans hold key po­si­tions on the de­ci­sion­mak­ing bod­ies that will de­ter­mine if, and whom, their union en­dorses in the presidenti­al primary next year. As of now, their allegiance­s are split.

Home state Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris has been court­ing many of those lo­cal union mem­bers and has some high-rank­ing former Cal­i­for­nia la­bor lead­ers on her staff, in­clud­ing se­nior ad­vis­ers Laphonza But­ler, who un­til re­cently was pres­i­dent of the largest union Cal­i­for­nia, SEIU Lo­cal 2015, which rep­re­sents home­care work­ers.

But lo­cal work­ers, la­bor lead­ers and some po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers say Har­ris can’t count on Cal­i­for­nia’s votes when it comes time for a na­tional en­dorse­ment de­ci­sion.

“I do think that Ka­mala Har­ris has been a friend of la­bor here in Cal­i­for­nia,” says Kent Wong, di­rec­tor of the UCLA La­bor Cen­ter and a vice pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. “But I don’t think ... she has wrapped up la­bor sup­port in Cal­i­for­nia. There are many union mem­bers who still sup­port Bernie San­ders. There are many that sup­port El­iz­a­beth War­ren. Some sup­port Joe Bi­den.”

The huge Demo­cratic field of presidenti­al can­di­dates in 2020 and the frag­men­ta­tion of la­bor sup­port be­tween those can­di­dates has raised the pos­si­bil­ity, union or­ga­niz­ers say, that many of the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful unions will stay on the side­lines un­til late in the primary — or not en­dorse at all un­til the gen­eral elec­tion.

If some do de­cide to line up behind one candidate early on, it could be a sig­nif­i­cant boost in Cal­i­for­nia, which is home to 2.4 mil­lion union mem­bers, more than any other state. Unions are also a fac­tor in early voting states like Iowa and Ne­vada, which have ac­tive la­bor move­ments with a his­tory of turn­ing out their vot­ers.

Most of the in­ter­na­tional unions have ex­ec­u­tive boards or coun­cils that vote on presidenti­al en­dorse­ments. Cal­i­for­nia is well-rep­re­sented on many of those, par­tic­u­larly unions that rep­re­sent large num­bers of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers like the SEIU, the NEA, Na­tional Nurses United and the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees.

The NEA, for ex­am­ple, has a PAC Coun­cil that is com­prised of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ev­ery state, NEA cau­cus and ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, which rec­om­mends a presidenti­al primary en­dorse­ment to its ex­ec­u­tive board.

Two Cal­i­for­nia teach­ers are on the six-per­son ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing one from El Do­rado County.

The Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a mem­ber of the NEA that rep­re­sents more than 300,000 ed­u­ca­tors, will follow the en­dorse­ment de­ci­sion made by that na­tional coun­cil, a spokes­woman con­firmed.

Har­ris has sought to woo teach­ers, rolling out a pro­posal early in her campaign to in­crease teacher pay by an aver­age of $13,500.

“I love Ka­mala Har­ris,” former Cal­i­for­nia Teacher’s As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Eric Heins told Mc­Clatchy. Heins cred­ited Har­ris for de­fend­ing work­ers and pub­lic school teach­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, as Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral, in­clud­ing su­ing one for-profit char­ter school op­er­a­tor ac­cused of fraud. “It takes courage to do stuff like that and she won,” he said.

But Heins also ac­knowl­edged that “there are a lot of teach­ers that sup­port Bernie, and other can­di­dates, as well.”

That’s true across other la­bor sec­tors. Stephanie Rober­son, gov­ern­ment re­la­tions di­rec­tor for the Cal­i­for­nia Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion, an af­fil­i­ate of NNU, said nurses planned to “judge each candidate on the is­sues” when weigh­ing an en­dorse­ment. Top on the list: Medi­care for All.

“We be­lieve fun­da­men­tally that pri­vate in­surance has no role in health­care,” said Rober­son, which would seem to elim­i­nate Har­ris from con­tention, given that her Medi­care-for-All pro­posal would al­low pri­vate in­sur­ers to par­tic­i­pate.

NNU en­dorsed San­ders in the 2016 primary. About half of its PAC coun­cil is from Cal­i­for­nia.

Among the hand­ful of people introducin­g San­ders at his rally in Sacra­mento last week was Joaquin Chavez, vice pres­i­dent of CWA 9119, which rep­re­sents more than 10,000 tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional em­ploy­ees of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem.

“We asked ev­ery presidenti­al con­tender at the time, ‘will you stand with us?’” as they were ne­go­ti­at­ing a new con­tract over the past two years, Chavez told the crowd gathered in the cap­i­tal city. “You know who an­swered that call? Sen­a­tor Bernie San­ders! And he didn’t just show up, he brought an army of sup­port­ers with him.”

Unions took heat in 2016 for lin­ing up early behind Hil­lary Clin­ton in the Demo­cratic primary, de­spite many work­ers’ sup­port of San­ders. So this year, la­bor lead­ers are promis­ing more con­sul­ta­tion with their mem­bers in 2020. And they are push­ing the herd of Democrats seek­ing a presidenti­al en­dorse­ment to en­gage with rank-and­file work­ers much more than in the past.

“They need to show up,” said Sara Nel­son, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Flight At­ten­dants-CWA. “En­gage in one of our events.”

San­ders isn’t the only one heed­ing that ad­vice. Former Hous­ing and Ur­ban Julián Cas­tro joined a picket line to sup­port Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia work­ers at Mis­sion Bay Med­i­cal Cen­ter in San Francisco in May.

On Tues­day, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg ap­peared at a protest in front of Uber’s San Francisco head­quar­ters, speaking to driv­ers with the car share plat­form who were call­ing for the pas­sage of state leg­is­la­tion to cat­e­go­rize many so-called “gig econ­omy” work­ers, like them, as em­ploy­ees eligible for ben­e­fits and pro­tec­tions.

“Where I come from, gig is another word for job — which means if you’re work­ing a gig, that makes you a worker, and you ought to be pro­tected as a worker,” Buttigieg told the driv­ers.

War­ren, the Mas­sachusetts sen­a­tor, supported the Assem­bly bill, known as AB 5, in a Sacra­mento Bee op-ed ear­lier this month. Har­ris and San­ders have also voiced sup­port for the leg­is­la­tion.

Har­ris also marched with Mc­Don­ald’s work­ers de­mand­ing a $15 min­i­mum wage in Las Ve­gas in June and “walked a day in the shoes” of Detroit security guard Delores McDaniel at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust, part of an SEIU pro­gram that en­cour­ages can­di­dates “to ex­pe­ri­ence first­hand what it’s like to work and raise a fam­ily in Amer­ica.”

Those kinds of events are an opportunit­y, Nel­son said, for the presidenti­al can­di­dates “to be a part of some­thing that can get re­sults now.”

“If they want to prove they are a politi­cian who can get things done,” added Nel­son, “then get on a union picket line.”

CAL­I­FOR­NI­ANS HOLD KEY PO­SI­TIONS ON THE DE­CI­SION-MAK­ING BOD­IES THAT WILL DE­TER­MINE IF, AND WHOM, THEIR UNION EN­DORSES IN THE PRESIDENTI­AL PRIMARY NEXT YEAR. AS OF NOW, ALLEGIANCE­S ARE SPLIT.

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