On Edwards' Bus
Call it a bit of country-mouse payback -- a few days after Hillary Clinton worked the phones trying to get the steelworkers to back off of their planned endorsement of John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator today invaded the big city to claim a victory on Clinton's New York turf: the endorsement of the Transport Workers Union, which includes New York's transit employees.
The union represents about 200,000 workers and retirees, with the largest contingent about 30,000 workers at New York's MTA, plus employees of Philadelphia's SEPTA and Amtrak, ground workers at American Airlines and ground workers and flight attendants at Southwest Airlines. Union president James C. Little attributed the choice of Edwards partly to the belief that he is the most electable of the leading Democratic candidates, and offered a thinly veiled dig at Clinton.
"Some candidates seem to be figuring out how to best triangulate on campaign issues," Little said. "John Edwards takes on subjects such as job security, health care, retirement and the growing gap in wealth between the rich and the middle class in a straight forward way that the country and working families desperately need."
On Monday, Edwards picked up the endorsements of the United Mine Workers of America and the United Steelworkers of America. Newsday reported that Clinton called Leo Gerard, the president of the steelworkers group, three or four times over the weekend urging the 1.2 million member union to back off of its Edwards endorsement. But in an interview with The Washington Post in Pittsburgh on Monday, Gerard said that various votes by union members over the past few months had all favored Edwards by a 2-1 margin over Clinton, who typically placed second in the surveys. Edwards scored major points, Gerard said, by showing up at a rally last December for striking Goodyear workers in Akron.
The mine workers' endorsement also had an interesting backdrop. Edwards has spoken as strongly as any Democratic candidate about the need to reduce the country's reliance on coal as part of the battle against global warming, going so far as to urge banning any new coal-fired power plants until technology has been developed to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. Barack Obama, by contrast, has over the past two years spoken in favor of subsidies for using coal to produce transportation fuel, a proposal that would vastly increase demand for coal (including in his home state of Illinois) but is highly unpopular with environmentalists. Obama has backed away from the idea in recent months, reassuring environmentalists but irking coal industry officials who thought he was on their side.
UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said today that the union is supporting Edwards despite his strong rhetoric against new coal-fired plants because he at least has a plan to increase funding for developing carbon storage, or sequestration, technology. The other Democrats "are willing to talk about [sequestration] but they're not talking about how much it's going to cost or how they're going to fund it, and Edwards does," Smith said.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts, whose organization now represents only a small minority of miners an industry that has gone largely anti-union, did not mention Edwards' opposition to new coal-fired plants in his rousing endorsement speech Monday in Pittsburgh, focusing instead on Edwards' general support for organized labor. "When this man ... is president, we'll have a right to organize workers again," Roberts said. "We may not be as big as we used to be, but we are still the shock troops of the American labor movement. The preseason is over, and millions of workers are going to stand up and be counted."
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