Ellison Enters DNC Vote With Strong Labor Backing

Friday, February 24, 2017

Via The National Journal

By Karyn Bruggeman

Rep. Keith El­lis­on and former Labor Sec­ret­ary Thomas Perez, the two lead­ing con­tenders for Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee chair­man, have struggled to avoid the char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion that their con­test is a rep­lica of the 2016 Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial primary.

In at least one way, it isn’t.

Many labor uni­ons came out early in sup­port of Hil­lary Clin­ton, with whom Perez is aligned. But in this race, which ends Sat­urday at the party meet­ing in At­lanta, most of the same groups are now back­ing El­lis­on, who has the sup­port of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The re­versal comes at a time when both the Demo­crat­ic Party and labor move­ment are mulling an un­cer­tain fu­ture. As Demo­crats are re­leg­ated to minor­ity status in Con­gress, gov­ernor­ships, and state le­gis­latures, uni­on mem­ber­ship is also de­clin­ing and Don­ald Trump won 42 per­cent of voters in uni­on house­holds in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to exit polls, primar­ily by op­pos­ing free trade and prom­ising the re­turn of man­u­fac­tur­ing and en­ergy jobs.

El­lis­on’s strength among or­gan­ized labor is par­tic­u­larly not­able giv­en that he won it over Perez, whose Cab­in­et post in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion helped provide close ties to most labor lead­ers. But uni­on mem­bers say their sup­port for El­lis­on, a six-term Min­nesota Demo­crat, is not about the Clin­ton-vs.-Sanders or Left-vs.-cen­ter split, but rather this po­s­i­tion’s in­her­ently dif­fer­ent job descrip­tion.

“The labor move­ment’s sup­port for Keith is pretty sur­pris­ingly deep and strong es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing it’s com­ing from people who are great ad­mirers of the job that Perez did as Labor sec­ret­ary, in­clud­ing me,” said Paul Booth, a top aide to Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of State, County, and Mu­ni­cip­al Em­ploy­ees Pres­id­ent Lee Saun­ders, a vot­ing DNC mem­ber.

But, Booth ad­ded, “we need an ef­fect­ive Demo­crat­ic Party and an or­gan­izer to put the mech­an­ism to­geth­er that can ac­tu­ally stop los­ing these elec­tions.” El­lis­on’s roots are in act­iv­ism and or­gan­iz­ing, while Perez has a ma­na­geri­al back­ground.

Perez is widely re­spec­ted for cham­pi­on­ing pro-work­er policies at Labor, but El­lis­on is of­ten char­ac­ter­ized as a man of the people who’s fought side-by-side with uni­on mem­bers. Most labor en­dorse­ments of El­lis­on evoke im­ages of him “on the pick­et line,” and as someone who knows how to run cam­paigns and sup­port can­did­ates.

Be­fore El­lis­on was elec­ted to Con­gress in 2006, he was act­ive in loc­al is­sues in Min­nesota. He is also a long­time mem­ber of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gress­ive Caucus and has been a key labor ally in Con­gress for the past dec­ade. El­lis­on op­posed the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, while Perez sup­por­ted it.

“The ba­sic reas­ons for it are, we look at Keith as an or­gan­izer and we think that this role of lead­ing the DNC at this par­tic­u­lar time needs someone who has an ori­ent­a­tion to­wards grass­roots or­gan­iz­ing and ex­per­i­ence with that, and that’s Keith,” said Mike Cavanaugh, the ex­ec­ut­ive as­sist­ant to AFL-CIO Ex­ec­ut­ive Vice Pres­id­ent Te­fere Gebre, who is the AFL-CIO’s vot­ing DNC mem­ber.

The next DNC chair will be de­cided Sat­urday by 447 vot­ing DNC mem­bers. There are es­tim­ated to be between 30 and 45 uni­on mem­bers who will cast a bal­lot. But El­lis­on enters the elec­tion with broad—though not un­an­im­ous—sup­port among ma­jor labor uni­ons and their top lead­ers, in­clud­ing those who have votes in the DNC race.

The list of El­lis­on’s labor en­dorse­ments is long. He has the back­ing of the AFL-CIO; the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tion­al Uni­on; the Team­sters; the United Steel­work­ers; the Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees; the United Auto Work­ers; the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica; UNITE HERE, a ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ing and hos­pit­al­ity in­dustry uni­on; and two ma­jor SEIU loc­als, 1199 and 32BJ.

El­lis­on has in­di­vidu­al en­dorse­ments from uni­on pres­id­ents of AF­SCME and the two ma­jor na­tion­al teach­ers’ uni­ons, the Na­tion­al Edu­ca­tion As­so­ci­ation and the Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. He is also sup­por­ted by former Labor Sec­ret­ary Hilda Sol­is, a DNC vot­ing mem­ber and former House col­league of El­lis­on’s.

Perez has won a hand­ful of labor en­dorse­ments in the race. The largest uni­on back­ing Perez is the United Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers, which has 1.3 mil­lion mem­bers. But Perez also has the sup­port of sev­en com­par­at­ively smal­ler uni­ons, in­clud­ing the In­ter­na­tion­al Long­shore and Ware­house Uni­on, which sup­por­ted Sanders last year.

There is a de­gree of sus­pi­cion among Perez’s staff and sup­port­ers that some uni­ons came out early for El­lis­on as a course cor­rec­tion after Clin­ton’s loss, and to hon­or their mem­bers who sup­por­ted Sanders and thought the Ver­mont sen­at­or could have beaten Trump. However, uni­ons that did back Perez say they did so primar­ily be­cause they want his man­age­ment ex­per­i­ence, not someone who will show up at every rally or protest.

“Sec­ret­ary Perez had man­aged a large agency and made it func­tion in a way that helped work­ing men and wo­men, and we feel that with his ded­ic­a­tion to labor and the work­ing pub­lic, he’d be a great fit to man­age and move such a large or­gan­iz­a­tion like the DNC,” said Ade­mola Oye­feso, the as­so­ci­ate dir­ect­or of the UFCW’s polit­ic­al de­part­ment.

El­lis­on sup­port­ers say that if their sup­port does rep­res­ent the de­sire for a re­set, it’s from the lead­er­ship of former DNC Chair Debbie Wasser­man Schultz, not Clin­ton. Some of them har­bor frus­tra­tion with Wasser­man Schultz for not pla­cing enough of an em­phas­is on labor is­sues dur­ing her ten­ure and spend­ing too much time rais­ing cor­por­ate money, most of which was funneled to­ward the pres­id­en­tial race.

In terms of win­ning back the uni­on voters Demo­crats have lost to Trump and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans in re­cent elec­tions, El­lis­on has won points for his early warn­ing in 2015 that Trump could win, des­pite wide­spread mock­ery of his can­did­acy at the time. Even Trump took no­tice this week of El­lis­on’s pres­ci­ent com­ments, tweet­ing that El­lis­on “was the one who pre­dicted early that I would win!”

However, no one an­ti­cip­ates that win­ning back those votes is a prob­lem the DNC chair alone will be able to fix.

“There’s a big cred­ib­il­ity chal­lenge, which is re­flec­ted by the suc­cess Pres­id­ent Trump had in Novem­ber,” Booth said. “And we have to be sober about it and not think that there are quick fixes about it. Trust has to be earned.”