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Democrat Presidential Candidates Meet With Influential Labor Union January 26, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–One of the most influential unions in politics is giving Democrats running for president the once-over.

The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, will shoehorn interviews with eight candidates into a two-day meeting of its 60-member international executive board at Gallaudet University. The meetings Friday and Saturday are closed to the public and the media.

The sessions are testament to how much the Democratic candidates value support among labor unions. SEIU is the largest, with nearly 2 million members nationwide and large membership in the early voting states of Iowa and Nevada.

But questions have arisen about how much influence the labor movement has in modern elections.

SEIU endorsed Howard Dean in the 2004 campaign, and he finished third in Iowa, struggled in the primaries and eventually bowed out. Union membership is steadily declining and reached a low of 12% of U.S. workers last year, according to federal statistics out this week.

The pressures on organized labor led to a split starting in the summer of 2005, with SEIU and more than a half-dozen other unions breaking free of the AFL-CIO.

SEIU recently announced that it was joining forces with trial lawyers and other political activists to press Democratic lawmakers to support populist issues such as expanded health care, trade restrictions and worker protections.

SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said the union has never gotten involved in a presidential race so early, with a year until Democrats begin casting their votes for the nominee. She said this week’s meeting will not result in an endorsement, but “we really just wanted to start the dialogue with the candidates.”

Friday’s appearances include Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, Joe Biden of Delaware, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut is scheduled to appear in person Saturday, and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson plan to appear via video feed.

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