Alex Wong / Getty Images

Powerful labor union SEIU backs Hillary Clinton for president

SEIU represents nearly 2 million workers and is the main backer of nationwide protests for $15 minimum wage

Hillary Rodham Clinton won the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union on Tuesday, giving her the support of a labor powerhouse that backed President Barack Obama in 2008.

The nation's largest health care and service sector union represents about 2 million nurses, health care workers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other service providers. It is among the most ethnically diverse unions in the country. The decision is a blow to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose supporters had pushed against an endorsement.

“Hillary Clinton has proven she will fight, deliver and win for working families,” SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. “SEIU members and working families across America are part of a growing movement to build a better future for their families, and Hillary Clinton will support and stand with them.”

The endorsement represents another show of strength for Clinton, who has locked up most of the major unions despite Sanders' message of helping workers overcome income inequality.

SEIU endorsed Obama over Clinton in early 2008, giving the future president a boost in the lengthy Democratic primary battle. Union officials said Clinton received a strong majority in the vote of its leadership, and a recent poll of its membership found that about 70 percent back Clinton.

The union is the main backer of the Fight for $15 protests by fast food workers and other low-wage service employees, who are demanding a $15 hourly wage and union recognition. The fast food workers held the latest in a series of nationwide strikes last week, and Clinton expressed her support for the protesters on Twitter.

Clinton has endorsed raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, a level below the $15 an hour that Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have sought.

But the union says its support was about building a movement for higher wages. Henry told Al Jazeera last week that $15 and a union was “an aspirational demand,” not a litmus test for candidates. “What we're expecting is candidates up and down the ticket who are willing to get in the streets and champion this demand,” Henry said.

Labor for Bernie, a group of unionists who back Sanders, sent out an email to its SEIU members last Friday calling on them to request that its union withhold the nomination. The email cited Clinton's refusal to support a $15 federal minimum wage.

“It is hard to ask workers to strike for $15 an hour in one breath when we are opposing the candidate (Sen. Sanders) who proposed national legislation for $15 an hour, in order to support a candidate who rejects our demand,” said Labor for Bernie.

The union could be an asset to Clinton in the general election because it has a large presence in several battleground states, including Florida and Colorado. Half of its members are women, and about 40 percent are minorities, with many speaking languages such as Spanish, Chinese and Creole.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter