Union Officials Worry Racism in the Ranks Is Hurting Obama

Shawn Zeller, Congressional Quarterly, August 24, 2008

AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman says she believes racism is playing a role in limiting Barack Obama ‘s appeal to some union members, but she said union leaders were making a concerted effort to overcome prejudice among their members.

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Ackerman said the AFL-CIO has launched a $53.4 million grass-roots campaign to convince union members to come out for Obama, including mailing 1 million pieces of direct mail this week touting Obama to union members in four states expected to be battlegrounds: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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But Ackerman acknowledged Obama’s struggles during the primary campaign to win over white workers without college degrees and said it was the union’s job to make the case for Obama.

“There has never been an African-American candidate for president and many folks around this country have never voted for an African-American candidate for any office,” she said. So Ackerman said union leadership is urging local union officials to reach out on a one-to-one basis to members resistant to voting for a black candidate. {snip}

But AFL-CIO officials said that white union members already are more supportive of Obama than working class whites who are not union members and that turning out union voters in key states could make the difference in the campaign. At the same time, Ackerman said that if the AFL-CIO fails to turn out union voters in just Ohio and Michigan, Obama would have a less than one percent chance of defeating presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain , R-Ariz.

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