Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger have announced that the 1.9-million-member union of nurses, childcare workers, janitors and other service workers has decided to endorse Barack Obama. Stern says the union’s executive board voted “overwhelmingly” to make the endorsement (with the union in Hillary Clinton’s home state of New York abstaining), overriding its earlier decision to allow its individual locals to go their own ways with regard to choosing a candidate. That decision by the deeply split executive board last September had been a big blow to John Edwards. And paradoxically, this endorsement now may be the biggest impact to date from Edwards’ decision to get out of the race. Stern said that many of the executive board members were determined to stick with Edwards as long as he was in.
Stern and Burger say Obama’s overwhelming victories in this week’s “Potomac primary” played a major role in the union’s decision to move now. While Clinton and Obama hold virtually identical positions on most of the issues that matter to the union, Stern said, “this is really not about specific positions alone. This is about the right person at the right time.”
What does it mean? SEIU is one of the most politically influential unions in the country, and has enormous resources that it can bring to bear–both in mobilizing its own members, and in running advertisements on behalf of Obama. Burger told me after the endorsement that SEIU has been polling its members, and that half of them in Pennsylvania alone say they are undecided at this point. This move on the part of the union could be a deciding factor for them.
UPDATE: Commenter Paul Dirks wants to know:
So are the Union officials responding to their membership or attempting to guide them?
I’d be interested in how the people who WEREN’T undecided fell….
I think the answer is: Both. Burger told me that SEIU has been polling its members in upcoming primary states–many of whom, like those in Pennsylvania, are only beginning to focus on the race–and is finding a strong movement toward Obama: “He really has struck a chord of enthusiasm.” And as the executive board was voting last night, she added, “I didn’t hear a voice in opposition to this.” (The union rules, by the way, require that any endorsement receive the approval of 50% of board members, representing 60% of the membership. Both Burger and Stern say the vote was far above that.)