Bernie Sanders receives endorsement of SEIU Local 560

by Parker Richards | 10/26/15 8:57pm

Dartmouth’s branch of the Service Employees International Union endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the United States presidency last week.

SEIU Local 560 unanimously backed Sanders at its monthly meeting, throwing the support of more than 500 members behind the Democratic presidential contender, union trustee Peter Marsh said.

“There is no better candidate for organized labor to back then Bernie Sanders,” Marsh said. “He is everything that labor says they are. [Sanders], quite frankly, is the most honest politician in Washington.”

Marsh — who personally supports Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) for the presidency — said that the union’s decision was partly based upon work the organization has done with Sanders in the past.

“When we’ve reached out for help and advice, [Sanders] has always at least verbally endorsed what we need to have, and many times he has come right to the College and stood with us, so it’s really a no-brainer,” he said.

Since Sanders represents neighboring Vermont, many of Local 560’s members are his constituents, Marsh said.

Government professor Brendan Nyhan said Local 560’s endorsement of Sanders is consistent with the senator’s base of support in northern New England, especially amongst educated liberal voters and union members.

“I expect Sanders to do well in Hanover,” Nyhan said. “This is the kind of area where there are a lot of liberal Democrats.”

Sanders could be competitive with Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, although he is unlikely to win the Democratic nomination, Nyhan said.

Current opinion polling shows Sanders ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire and his home state of Vermont and slightly behind her in Iowa. A survey conducted by CBS News and the polling organization YouGov between Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 found Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire with 54 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 39 percent.

Other recent polls have shown Clinton and Sanders juggling the lead in New Hampshire between them, although Sanders has led in four of seven polls published in October.

Union members have attended events hosted by the College Democrats in the past, College Democrats president Maddie Cooper ’16 said. When the group hosted Sanders during the 2014 election cycle, many Dartmouth staff — including numerous union members — attended the event, she said.

While the College Democrats will not endorse a primary candidate, Cooper said Local 560’s endorsement of Sanders demonstrated the high level of enthusiasm for the election at the College.

“I think it’s really wonderful when Dartmouth gets excited about elections, and I’m really excited about the possibilities of Dartmouth students, faculty and staff coming together in this upcoming election cycle, possibly even to a greater extent than we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

There was little debate over whether or not Local 560 would endorse Sanders, Marsh said. The union is primarily compromised of workers at the Hanover Inn, Safety and Security, Facilities Operations and Management and the Dartmouth Dining Service, many of whom live in Vermont and have supported Sanders in previous elections, he said.

Roughly 10 to 12 percent of union members attend monthly meetings, Marsh said.

“We’re a labor union — we are as pure a democracy as happens,” he said. “Everything that happens in our union, in our specific local, is taken by a majority vote of those present.”

Although Marsh was not himself present at the vote, he said the union made the best decision possible and hopes the endorsement will give Sanders a boost in the Upper Valley.

“I think it was the right move by the union,” Marsh said. “I think that [Sanders and the union] have the same philosophy overall. I know there are individuals within the union who might have different ideas — much like my own — but I think it makes perfect sense.”

While local unions are fairly likely to support Sanders, larger unions and national unions may support Clinton, the national frontrunner, Nyhan said.

“It’s likely that more unions will endorse Clinton, especially as you move up the ladder in the organizational hierarchy,” he said. “Local chapters perhaps will endorse Sanders, but as you get to the national level, I’d expect union leaders to fall in line behind the likely nominee, and that’s very likely to be Hillary Clinton.”

Nyhan said the endorsement could help Sanders in the Upper Valley, and the stronger Sanders polls, the more he could be able to influence Clinton’s policy positions. This could help set the tone for both the general election and, if Clinton is elected, her presidency.

Clinton is leading Sanders heavily in recent national opinion polls, with one recent Morning Consult poll showing her ahead of Sanders with 56 percent of the vote to his 24 percent.

The union was first organized in the 1960s following pay discrepancies at Dartmouth, Marsh said. It has been led for the past 28 years by Earl Sweet, who created a regional council of public workers and service unions in northern New England to discuss labor matters, he said.

Sweet could not be reached for comment for this article.

College labor relations director Nancy McCann declined to comment for this article. She wrote in an email that Dartmouth does not have any influence over the union’s political choices.