Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Obama Wins Major International Union Endorsement

By Joel Wendland

Earlier today, reports the New York Times, Sen. Barack Obama won the endorsement of UNITE HERE, a union of hotel workers, restaurant workers, and garment workers with a national worker membership of about 460,000 and about 400,000 retirees.

While Obama's first international endorsement doesn't measure up numerically to the unions who have lined up with Sen. Clinton, this particular union will be crucial in the Nevada caucus set for the 19th. Culinary Local 226 is the largest union in Las Vegas (60,000 members) and is affiliated with UNITE HERE.

The union's international president Bruce Raynor told the Times that his union sided with Obama because of the union's dispute with Mark Penn, Clinton's lead political strategist. Penn heads a PR firm that represented Cintas Corporation.

Cintas fought UNITE HERE's efforts to organize its thousands of janitorial workers. You can read Political Affairs' coverage of the Cintas fight here, by Joelle Fishman.

Cintas openly threatened immigrant workers with deportation if they joined the union. Cintas was cited hundreds of times for violating safety and health laws, and for refusing to protect workers from unsafe conditions. Read more here...

Cintas also aggressively fought to break unions in plants it bought, and UNITE HERE filed dozens of grievances for violations of labor laws against the company (such as these). Cintas owner Richard T. Farmer has given Republicans like Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, George W. Bush, and numerous other ultra-right PACs well over $1 million dollars.

For union members this is an issue of solidarity. Clinton's relationship to Penn has long been an issue, but now it has cost her union support and could cost her a key caucus. She should know better.

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