WASHINGTON -- One of the nation's largest labor unions gave President Obama an early 2012 endorsement on Wednesday, pledging to spend nearly a full year focusing on its get-out-the-vote efforts even as Republicans haven't yet determined a candidate.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Services Employees International Union, said the early nod to the president was meant to give them a jump on organizing and to make it "crystal clear" which direction the union believes the country should be heading in.
Henry borrowed some of the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement when explaining why the SEIU's roughly 2 million members are getting behind Obama even though some people in the labor community have lost enthusiasm for the president.
"We believe as Americans we face a stark choice," Henry said in a call with reporters. "Do we want leaders who side with rich corporations and the 1 percent ... or do we want leaders who side with the rest of us, the 99 percent, who will fight to build a strong middle class?"
An endorsement for Obama from the largest union of health care workers in the country comes as no surprise, although the timing might seem curious. Publicly throwing support to Obama at such an early stage may indicate some of unease among the labor community about next year's election. Unemployment is still hovering around 9 percent, and recent polls among prospective voters show Obama in a close race with Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney -- and even Newt Gingrich.
Although most of the criticism has been quiet and subtle, some within the labor community have been disappointed with Obama's performance, feeling he's caved to Republicans on taxes and austerity matters, and failed to sell his economic policies. The president has also made little progress with regard to comprehensive immigration reform, a matter dear to the SEIU, which counts a considerable number of immigrant as members.
Even so, Henry assured reporters that the union maintained its enthusiasm for the president and was eager to educate voters on "who broke the economy, who's responsible for it and why it's happening." She added that the union planned on reaching out to non-union voters, though she didn't say how much the union expected to spend on its efforts.
"We need to have robust discussions in every community about the choices working people face," Henry said. "And we intend to use every day between now and then, and turn out [voters] in numbers way beyond what we did in 2008."
Yvonne Richardson, a retired health care worker from Florida and a SEIU member, said she plans to hit the streets and the phones in an effort to get Obama reelected.
"President Obama is for the working people," Richardson said on the reporter call. "He's for the poor and the indigent, and he's doing everything he can for us to take care of our children."
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