Union members in Illinois and Iowa are denouncing their national leaders as hypocrites for sending out a deceptive campaign mailer aimed this week at Barack Obama. They are livid that the political arm of their 1.4 million member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) financed a mailer to Iowa voters slamming Obama for opposing individual health care mandates - the same sort of mandates long opposed by the union.
"This is definitely hypocritical, absolutely," said Carter Woodruff, an activist with Iowa AFSCME and a former official of the union state council. "It's a desperate attempt to attack [Obama] for unfounded reasons. It's a shame they stooped so low."
The union's direct mail flyer was written in a disguised manner that suggested it came from the John Edwards campaign and not from AFSCME and it slapped Obama for taking what it called "the timid way out, offering yet another band-aid solution."
AFSCME's national leadership endorsed Hillary Clinton last October and is expected to spend millions on her behalf if she wins the nomination.
Woodruff along with Henry Bayer, Executive Director of Illinois-based AFSCME Council 31, spoke to reporters on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign. Council 31, representing 75,000 Illinois public employees, endorsed Obama this month. "Senator Obama has fought like hell for working people," said Bayer. "His health care plan is most in line with that of our national union."
The dissident union members, indeed, pointed out that AFSCME's national health care resolution passed earlier this year declared that individual mandates are "incompatible" with the principles and interests of the union membership.
And in congressional testimony last April, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee also denounced individual mandates as they would force families to "pay much higher prices" for health care policies.
But AFSCME President McEntee is a long-time loyal supporter of the Clintons and though his union went through an extended process of internal consultation before acting it was a foregone conclusion that it would eventually put its heft into Hillary Clinton's corner. He was an early supporter of President Bill Clinton's candidacy and emerged as the most important pro-Clinton labor leader during the 1990's.
Hillary Clinton has recently targeted Obama's rejection of universal health care mandates claiming that it would leave 15 million Americans un-insured. Mandates, of the sort supported by Clinton, would require every American family to purchase a health care plan with subsidies offered to those with lower incomes. Obama, by contrast, has argued that the problem with health insurance is precisely that it is unaffordable and that mandates would only aggravate the problem.
The Edwards campaign, which shares the Clinton position on health care mandates, nevertheless denounced the AFSCME mailer as unprecedented in its deception. "There have been a lot of misleading tactics and tricks in the last few weeks, but we've just never seen anything like this before," said Edwards' Iowa state director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon in a statement. "Either they are trying to trick people, or they've realized that on health care, John Edwards is the candidate who speaks honestly about what it really costs and what will be required to have truly universal coverage."
McEntee's office did not reply to requests to respond to today's denunciation by the Illinois and Iowa members.