Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a senior writing fellow for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Hillary’s Relationship Status with Labor: It’s Complicated

From the get-go, Hillary’s campaign has been banking on early support from labor unions. And so far, she’s done OK. Very early on, the American Federation of Teachers, led by political ally Randi Weingarten, endorsed Clinton for president. She’s also garnered support from International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. A number of smaller unions have also thrown their weight behind her candidacy.

However, for a number of reasons, things have become rather complicated in her quest to rally a united labor movement behind her. For one, Bernie Sanders has proven to be an effective thorn in her side. His populist platform has excited a broad swath of rank-and-file union members. When the AFT endorsed Clinton, there was significant backlash from its membership, which claimed the endorsement process was undemocratic.

That trend of early endorsements from union leadership and subsequent rank-and-file unrest has played out with each endorsement for Clinton. A grassroots movement, Labor for Bernie, has emerged in an effort to encourage labor unions to hold off endorsements for Clinton and consider Sanders, whom they say is more ideologically in step with the labor movement. Earlier this month, his campaign said that 26,000 people participated in a phone call with the Democratic contender that focused on the labor movement.

In addition to Bernie’s insurgency, whispers about a potential run by Vice President Joe Biden has led some major labor unions to sit back and wait. Last week, Politico reported that both SEIU and AFSCME were waiting to endorse in light of the possible shake-up in the race if Vice President Joe Biden were to jump in. 

SEIU has pushed back on that assertion, saying that its endorsement process is still underway and Joe Biden's indecision has not played a role. "SEIU leaders are engaged in deep conversations with our members around the issues that matter to them most and about the candidates they feel will best lead on those issues," the union said in a statement to the Prospect. "This process was always intended to be fluid and therefore doesn't include a set timeline for endorsement." 

Sanders supporters argue that the decision is due just as much to Bernie’s rank-and-file support as it is to Biden. The two prominent unions have huge membership rolls and a broad political network, making their endorsements highly coveted in the Democratic field.

Still, many union leaders seem ready to toss their hats in Hillary’s ring—banking on the fact that she is still the most plausible candidate. Yesterday, Annie Karni of Politico got the scoop that the political arm of the biggest union in the country, the National Education Association, is recommending a Clinton endorsement and will be holding a vote soon. The move has already stoked anger among state affiliate leaders and rank-and-filers in the three-million-member union.

Despite that news, Clinton is still very clearly concerned about shoring up labor support. Indicative of that was the news yesterday that she supports a repeal of Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax,” which is a big sticking point for many labor unions. Sanders had already introduced legislation in the Senate to repeal the tax. 

As Politico’s Morning Shift notes, the move could be a strategic move to give her some cover on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she’s yet to take a clear position on.

Not all union leadership is focused on Clinton, though. Her opposition to the construction of the Keystone Pipeline ticked off the Teamsters union—and as Fox News reported yesterday, the union voted unanimously to withhold an endorsement. It’s even seeking an audience with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

There’s many obstacles that remain in Clinton’s quest for robust labor support. If Biden does jump in, that will severely complicate matters. And if rank-and-file Bernie supporters can successfully pressure union leaders to hold off on endorsements, that could force her campaign to push further left—perhaps more so than she is comfortable with politically.   

This post has been updated to reflect a recent statement from SEIU asserting that Joe Biden's possible candidacy has not played a role in its endorsement decision. 

The Labor Prospect: Biding Biden

Unions await Joe Biden's possible run, Minneapolis moves closer to fair scheduling law, and Republicans love the sharing economy. 

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik Vice President Joe Biden arrives to speak at a White House Champions of Change Law Enforcement and Youth meeting, Monday, September 21, 2015, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), on the White House complex in Washington. W hile a number of unions have already decided to throw their weight behind a chosen Democratic presidential candidate—mostly Hillary Clinton—two major unions said last week that they would hold off on making an early endorsement. Last week, Politico reported that both SEIU and AFSCME were waiting to endorse in light of the possible shake-up in the race if Vice President Joe Biden were to jump in. SEIU has pushed back on that assertion, saying that its endorsement process is still underway and Joe Biden's indecision has not played a role. "SEIU leaders are engaged in deep conversations with our members around the issues that matter to them most and about the candidates they feel will best lead on...

The Labor Prospect: Pitching the Pope

Francis I's laborious arrival, Scott Walker's fall, and the South's low-wage bonanza. 

CQ Roll Call via AP Images
CQ Roll Call via AP Images On the day Pope Francis arrives in Washington, federal contract workers protest around the U.S. Capitol to demand a $15 per hour federal minimum wage on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Welcome to The Labor Prospect, our weekly round-up highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. H ave ya heard the news? Apparently, the Pope is descending upon Washington, D.C. tonight. Who knew? And in anticipation of his arrival, every interest group ever is doing everything it can to tie its agenda to that of the Pontiff’s. Organized labor is no exception. Pope Francis has made the case for reducing economic inequality and reining in laissez-faire capitalism a main pillar of Church doctrine, and labor is using his visit to the nation’s capital to call for a papal embrace of worker justice. As Ned Reskinoff writes for Al-Jazeera America , hundreds of low-wage federal contract workers went on a protest strike this morning calling for higher...

Walker Walks Away from the GOP Race

The New York Times is reporting that this evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will announce that he’s dropping out of contention for the GOP presidential nomination. Though he was once a frontrunner in Iowa, his campaign has long been struggling for notoriety—a chronic problem now for many candidates competing with The Donald.

The latest CNN poll showed Walker’s support in Iowa at about one-half of 1 percent. His campaign was counting on a strong performance in the second debate to bolster both his poll numbers and donor base. That didn’t work out so well.

As I wrote last week, another indication of the increasing desperation of his campaign was the unveiling of his incredibly anti-worker and anti-union plan that would kill the NLRB, gut federal public-sector unions, and make the country one giant right-to-work wasteland. The move seemed to be a last-minute attempt to remind well-heeled big-business donors that he was the de facto candidate for big business and would stand up to the oppressive organized-labor regime.

According to the Times, donors didn’t respond as expected. “Everyone I know was just totally stunned by how difficult the fund-raising became, but the candidate and the campaign just couldn’t inspire confidence,” one donor said.

There are a few important takeaways from Walker’s impending departure:

  • His early adornment as the Koch brothers’ political lackey appears to not have been enough to earn Tea Party support in Iowa or New Hampshire. It will be interesting to parse out in the coming days just how much of a role the Kochs had in his dropping out—and the disappearance of his donor base.
  • Speculation that all these GOP candidates will be able to lean on their well-funded affiliated super PACs, no matter their polling numbers, has so far proven to be false, twice: Rick Perry had millions in his super PAC coffers, and Scott Walker’s Unintimidated PAC was well-funded, too.
  • An anti-labor agenda doesn’t seem to have much national appeal. Unions have more public support than they’ve had in years, and in an age of unprecedented income inequality, voters are better able to see through policies that are directly intended to decrease the power of the middle class.

As the AFL-CIO succinctly puts it, “Scott Walker is still a disgrace, just no longer national.” 

Why Major Parties Want Big Donors to Ditch Super PACs

In 2014, the Supreme Court dealt yet another blow to campaign finance regulations as it did away with contribution limits to political parties. The case, McCutcheon v. FEC, overturned the tenet of Federal Election Campaign Act that imposed individual aggregate contribution limits to national political parties and federal candidate committees.

While Citizens United created a whole new world of political money that operated outside of the traditional campaign finance framework, McCutcheon decimated that traditional framework by eliminating donation caps meant to keep the corrupting influence of big donors out of the party apparatuses and federal campaigns.

In the last presidential election cycle, the aggregate two-year contribution limit to political parties or federal candidates was $117,000. Now, as we enter the first post-McCutcheon presidential election, it seems that campaign finance reformers’ worst fears about unlimited aggregate contributions are coming true.

As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, both the national Republican and Democratic Party are urging their wealthiest supporters to contribute 10 times more than what was allowed in the last go-around.

“Under the new plans, which have not been disclosed publicly, the top donation tier for the Republican National Committee has soared to $1.34 million per couple this election cycle,” The Post reports. “Democratic contributors, meanwhile, are being hit up for even more—about $1.6 million per couple—to support the party’s convention and a separate joint fundraising effort between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.”

Such a rapid increase in contribution asks is turning the political fundraising world on its head. The political parties are soliciting massive donations in exchange for VIP treatment at the conventions, retreats with party leaders, and for the GOP at least, an explicit opportunity to “influence messaging and strategy.”

Some speculate that bringing mega-donors back into the traditional fundraising fold (and out of the super PAC world that has wreaked havoc on the parties’ functions) could reinvigorate the political power of the national parties, which have become eclipsed in recent years by individual candidates. Additionally, some prominent partisan donors see the benefit in donating (and wielding influence) directly to parties and, thus, the eventual nominee, rather than gambling millions by backing an individual candidate’s super PAC during an especially volatile primary season. Just how much of a big-money exodus from super PAC to political party there will be is still unclear.

While McCutcheon did away with contribution caps, there was also a backroom political deal late last year that tucked a vast expansion of party fundraising capabilities into a spending bill. That provision raised the limit for individual contributions to national party committees from $97,200 to a whopping $777,600. Marc Elias, who is now Hillary Clinton’s general counsel, was the key architect of that provision.

And Hillary stands to gain a lot from a well-funded Democratic Party, which she has partnered with early on to set up a joint-fundraising account that gives her campaign a small cut of contributions to the DNC.

The optics of all this doesn’t bode well for her supposed commitment to campaign finance reform, on which I wrote about last week.

Meanwhile, reform advocates aren’t happy with this new development. “This is a return to the old system of using the parties as vehicles to launder the buying and selling of government influence and decisions,” Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, told the Post

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