Unions' disproportionate political impact

It was a big week for labor endorsements and for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who was backed by unions with a total of more than 2 million members and retirees. In Nevada, his big score was the carpenters, who have more than 12,000 members and are known as one of the most active and organized here.

On three days' notice recently, 700 of them showed up at Las Vegas City Hall to demonstrate. That ability to turn them out has labor leaders and politicos pointing to the carpenters and Marc Furman, their leader, as a good get for Edwards. "We can have a disproportionate impact because we can get people where we need them, and a caucus is all about getting people where you need them," Furman said to me a while back.

Edwards, who recently moved some staff from Nevada to Iowa, touched down for a brief visit to commemorate all the endorsements. He'll need labor’s manpower if he has any chance here.

So who’s left?

Well, of course, there’s the Culinary Union Local 226, which has 60,000 members and is the most well-organized politically.

There seemed to be hints Edwards might pick up Culinary recently when Bruce Raynor, co-president of Culinary parent UNITE HERE, representing 450,000 hotel and apparel workers, told The Wall Street Journal that Edwards is his favorite candidate and that the union would be endorsing someone soon.

But Culinary Political Director Pilar Weiss, in an interview with The Politico’s Ben Smith, said Culinary and its members will make up their own mind and endorse in December, regardless of what UNITE HERE does. Culinary generally backs winners.

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) had a private meeting with Culinary shop stewards before hosting a recent town hall in a black, working-class neighborhood in Las Vegas. His campaign seems to have grasped that he’s not making inroads among working-class voters, and they’re trying to shore up support within that community. A Culinary endorsement would be a huge lift to his campaign.

Aside from Culinary, the candidates are working a few other unions hard, knowing that labor will drive turnout.

The Service Employees International Union has 15,000 members and is led by Executive Director Jane McAlevey, who's added 6,000 workers during her tenure and is in the middle of more organizing campaigns. About two-thirds of members are registered to vote, and the goal is to get to 90 percent.

Headquarters in D.C. are paying for 30 SEIU members to act as full-time organizers. They will organize by shop, and then outward from shop into neighborhood.

SEIU will make an endorsement decision at its September meeting in Washington.

The Nevada State Education Association has 28,000 members. They live in every precinct in the state, and 75 percent of them are registered. They're educated, professional and tend to vote in greater numbers than their union counterparts, although with their high level of education and media consumption, they may be more inclined to make their own decision on caucus day rather than follow an endorsement.

The association is led by Lynn Warne, a new president and fourth-grade teacher on leave, as well as the active political team of Julie Whitacre and longtime Nevada Democratic consultant Dan Hart, whose tough-minded mail campaign helped defeat a state senator last year.

The National Education Association will provide a list of acceptable candidates, and then the Nevada State Education Association's board will decide whether to endorse, and whom to endorse, sometime in the fall. The national association will likely flood the state with money and operatives if the Nevada Democratic caucus proves to be significant.

Roberta West is the president of the Nevada board of the AFL-CIO and is president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has 7,000 members here.

The union has a core caucus team of 50 members who will train workers and lead them in the run-up to the caucus.

West said she's unsure how many members are registered. The United Food Workers' parent is a massive and deep-pocketed union, which combined with the service employees union to take on Wal-Mart, and headquarters could send money and experienced operatives here.

The Teamsters have three locals in Nevada and are led by Gary Mauger, Wayne King and Mike Magnani. The three locals represent about 11,500 members, which could be a potent force if they can organize and mobilize.

The AFL-CIO, which has 200,000 Nevada members, won’t endorse before the caucus, though its affiliates are free to. The federation is running its own caucus training and turnout operation, however, and so will be an important player in January.


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