Labor union's have lavished big bucks on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama since January of 2007 and only a piddling amount on the campaign of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
On the eve of Labor Day, a Times analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows Obama scooped up $8.1 million from union political action committees through July 2008 while McCain garnered just $54,100 from organized labor and employee PACs so far in this presidential election cycle.
The all-or-nothing bet unions are placing on Obama repeats the strategy of heavily backing Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 election.
"There is that huge split because there is a huge split in what Obama and McCain represent," said Tom Balanoff, President of Chicago-based Service Employees Union Local 1. "Barack Obama understands the needs of working families."
During and immediately after the primary season, SEIU political action committees were by far the largest organizational contributors to the Obama campaign, dropping a combined $7.26 million in his campaign war chest.
Of all the political action committee donations made to the Obama campaign, 89.3 percent were from unions. Of all the political action committee donations made to the McCain campaign, just 2.9 percent came from unions and employee PACs.
In fact, union political action committees made $1.6 million in donations to anti-McCain efforts, the election commission records show.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton had broader support from unions than Obama during the primary season, garnering $4.4 million in donations from 35 union PACs. Obama's money came from just eight union PACs.
Unions cannot make direct donations to federal candidates' election campaigns. Instead, union members contribute to the unions' political action committees through authorized payroll deductions.
The United Steelworkers are using the same logic as SEIU in throwing all their weight behind Obama now that he is the Democratic nominee, according to Jim Robinson, USW District 7 director.
"If we gave money to McCain, that wouldn't change the positions he's had for many years," said Robinson. "It would be like the chickens getting together and giving a donation to Colonel Sanders."
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The United Steelworkers backed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the primaries.
"He was the most energetic and aggressive on trade policy," said USW public affairs director Gary Hubbard of Edwards.
But now the USW is backing Obama wholeheartedly, Hubbard said.
Obama's policies on universal health care, trade, and the Employee Free Choice Act make the Illinois Senator the choice of most every union, Robinson said.
Unions believe the Free Choice Act, which would give employees union representation if a majority signed cards signalling union membership, will increase union numbers. Unions claim the current regime of National Labor Relations Board elections for union recognition allows employers to stall unionization.
McCain opposed the Free Choice Act when it was introduced in Congress. The steelworkers also believe McCain's health care plan will actually drive workers out of employer programs and into the arms of private insurance companies, Robinson said.
In addition to their campaign donations, unions are working to increase their clout through get-out-the-vote and ongoing political campaigns, according to Michelle Ringuette, SEIU assistant director of communications.
Local 1 SEIU members were in Gary this weekend conducting a voter registration drive.
SEIU will have members make 10 million calls to members of Congress in support of universal health care and other issues important to working families, Ringuette said. The union will put up $10 million to make sure members of Congress deliver on their promises and dedicate 50 percent of its organizing budget to political action.
"We will keep the heat on so things get done," Ringuette said.