Which Democrat Will Unions Support?

Unions have different interests and these differences are reflected in the campaign to win the Democratic nomination.

America’s labor unions have a unity problem.

Which Democrat should they support in the quest to become president? Unions almost always support Democrats with their time and money.

That may not be good for federal employees who work for whoever wins in a presidential election. If the winner happens to be a Republican, he is looking out from his residence on Pennsylvania Avenue to the surrounding city and sees agencies filled with employees whose representatives tried hard to help the other guy win. That might be enough to make him want to contract out their jobs. 

But regardless of the impact on their constituents, federal unions are apparently not going to stop becoming openly involved in partisan politics by helping elect Democrats to office. But which Democrat?

Members of manufacturing unions sometimes refer to their public sector counterparts as “pencil pushers.” Some of these unions have thrown their support behind Dick Gephardt, a long-time friend of the big unions. These unions are concerned primarily about trade issues as a number of manufacturing jobs are quickly going outside American borders. Higher taxes are sometimes contrary to the interests of unions in the manufacturing sector as higher costs means the flow of jobs can be accelerated. These unions are not happy with their public sector counterparts for abandoning Gephardt in his campaign.

On the other hand, government jobs are one of the fastest growing segments for new jobs in the United States. Government workers (both state and federal) care a lot about government spending. Higher taxes means more government revenue. More revenue for government means a better chance for higher wages and more generous pension programs.

The result is tension and lack of unity. According to the Wall Street Journal, this tension is evident in Iowa as labor representatives are working for different candidates. The manufacturing unions are working for Gephardt; the service sector unions are working for Howard Dean. (Federal employee unions have been vocal on issues such as contracting out of federal jobs and some frequently attack President Bush but are apparently not working in support of any one candidate yet.)

So, while there isn’t much chance of the unions working to re-elect President Bush, the close race for the Democratic nomination and the competition between different unions as to which candidate to support may resonate for some time.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47