Another labor union endorsed President Obama's re-election campaign on Wednesday. The Service Employees International Union's announcement came as no surprise, but not so much so that it should be filed under "News That Really Isn't."
The SEIU, one of the largest unions with more than two million members, and other labor groups haven't been at all pleased with Obama. They privately fumed at his inability to push through card-check legislation and his decision to propose cuts to entitlement programs during the debt-reduction talks. Not to mention the failures of two measures important to union members—immigration reform and, so far, the president's jobs bill in Congress.
In a conference call with reporters, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry brushed aside any such concerns and pledged her organization's full support for the president.
"President Obama shares our vision of a nation that invests in good jobs here at home, where everyone pays their fair share, where access to quality, affordable health care is preserved, and where there is a pathway to citizenship for every immigrant worker," Henry said. "It's a vision that says: Our country does better when we all do better."
Henry invoked the populist rhetoric of the Occupy movement, which the SEIU enthusiastically backs, in saying that voters face a "stark choice" in 2012: "Do we want leaders who side with rich corporations—the 1 percent who are prospering—or leaders who side with us, the 99 percent."
The question wasn't whether unions would support Obama, but whether their frustrations would stop them from putting their full organizational muscle behind him—and convincing their members to follow suit. Enthusiastic union support remains critical to Obama and the Democratic Party's chances in 2012, particularly in heavily unionized swing states in the Midwest.
Historically, organized labor provides much of the machinery used by the party, from money to ad buys to volunteers. In 2008, the SEIU endorsed Obama early, during the February primaries, and spent roughly $85 million during the cycle.
The National Education Association, which represents teachers and other school workers, announced its endorsement in July. The United Food and Commercial Workers did so in October.
Henry said the endorsement was made sooner to make her organization's intentions clear. The more tangible benefit is that the group gets an early start in raising money and mobilizing members.
For this election, a big focus for the union will be outreach to African-Americans and Latinos. Democrats have made the calculus that high turnout by both groups will be critical to Obama's reelection chances to offset his declined support among white moderate voters. Another goal is to raise more money from SEIU members.