The largest labor union in the United States may be about to endorse Hillary Clinton for President without a poll of its membership.
Leadership at the National Education Association (NEA) has been making troubling moves toward endorsing Clinton that could commit the organization to supporting the Democratic presidential hopeful with no regard for the wishes of its 3.2 million members.
An endorsement could come as early as Oct. 2-3 when President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is expected to propose a primary endorsement of Clinton at the NEA Board meeting, according to multiple NEA sources. Then the PAC council would vote. If approved, it would go to the board for a final decision.
However, since this is only an endorsement for the primary election, the matter would not need to go before the Representative Assembly (RA). In effect, the move could sidestep the voices of the RA’s 8,000 delegates representing state and local affiliates, student members, retired members, and other segments of the united education profession.
The decision would be made by a handful of leaders and the PAC council. Though there are thousands of PAC council votes, they are distributed by the amount of money raised by each state’s members. This means that little states like Delaware – where members donate greatly – have a larger vote relative to their membership than other states.
The voices of the great majority of members would be silenced.
Already leadership at the highest levels seems to be trying to consolidate Clinton support.
Last Wednesday NEA Directors were invited to an hour-long conference call with Clinton. Few directors were allowed to ask questions and only if those questions had been submitted in advance.
After Clinton left the call, only three state presidents had a moment to speak; all gave positive reflections on Clinton and how she supports teachers and public education.
Despite the fact that several Democrats have been courting the NEA’s endorsement, only Clinton was invited to this call.
Last summer, the NEA invited all presidential candidates to participate in the union’s endorsement process. Only Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders did so. Each made a video statement that was shown at the summer’s RA meeting and posted by many to their local groups. Though more candidates have entered the race since then, none have chosen to interview with the NEA.
Ironically, at the same RA meeting, the assembly voted specifically NOT to ignore rank and file membership before endorsing a Presidential candidate. New Business Item 79 states:
NEA, as an organization, will actively engage in conversation and outreach on the NEA endorsement process with all 2016 Presidential campaigns prior to the consideration of a primary recommendation.
It seems if the leadership goes through with the primary endorsement as outlined above, they may be violating NBI 79.
The move is doubly troubling because of the strong-armed manner in which the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Clinton in July.
Though the AFT Executive Board voted to endorse Clinton, there is little evidence it did so after adequately gauging members opinions through claimed multiple surveys and telephone town halls. The move caused an uproar and claims the AFT endorsed too early and without rank and file support.
Despite politics at the national level of the NEA, some state affiliates have already made endorsements. For instance, Vermont NEA already endorsed Sanders, their state’s Senator.
“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” Vermont NEA president Martha Allen said in a statement. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: He is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”
Alternatively, the New Hampshire NEA endorsed Clinton in September. Scott McGilvray, NEA-NH president, called Clinton a “tireless fighter” for students and teachers.
However, Sanders is gaining on Clinton in the polls in the first two primary states. A new Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire gives Sanders the lead over Clinton by a 43-36 margin. Sanders also leads Clinton in Iowa by a 41-40 margin. This is a huge gain from July when Clinton was beating Sanders by 49-25 in that state.
A major endorsement from a union the size of the NEA at this time might give Clinton the boost she needs to solidify her front runner status.
Whatever happens, no matter who the NEA decides to endorse, if anyone, it should be someone leadership can demonstratively prove has the support of the majority of its members.