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November 26, 2014

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Reversing course, national SEIU settles on Obama

The Service Employee International Union announced its international endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama this morning, with the union's top leaders citing his ability to bridge the country's partisan divide and his early opposition to the Iraq war as key reasons for the nod.

The decision, coming late in the primary reason and after Obama has racked up eight consecutive state victories, is a reversal from the union's initial stance last year not to make an international endorsement. Former Sen. John Edwards had substantial support among the union's executive board members, but no candidate had been able to meet the threshold of support — a majority of board members representing 60 percent of the union's 1.9 million members.

Instead, it gave its locals the authority to endorse on a state-by-state basis. But that process resulted in chaos, as the locals had no mechanism to make decisions. The endorsements, when they came, were at times surrounded by controversy and, in the case of Nevada, failed to deliver a victory.

Now, with Edwards out of the race, the union's leadership felt it was time to unite behind one candidate, said SEIU President Andy Stern. The vote, tallied this morning, went overwhelming to Obama, he said. Recent polling of the union's membership also reflected a shift to Obama, Stern said.

Notably, the union's chapter in New York, Clinton's home state, abstained from the endorsement vote.

"We do think he has the experience and the vision we need in our next president," Stern said. "This is about more than the next election. It's about building on the next generation. And Barack Obama has built a broader and deeper coalition than I've seen in generations."

Stern added: "It’s about the right person at the right time. We think there is an opportunity for fundamental change in this country.... There are things in the guts of people who think this is where America needs to go and Barack Obama is the one to take us there."

The union's decision to endorse Obama also comes after that of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which endorsed the Illinois Senator Thursday, and Unite Here, which endorsed him last month. The endorsements reinforce factions in the American labor movement. Obama is pulling support from unions that are part of the Change to Win coalition, which broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005. Meanwhile, Clinton has support among unions that remain part of the AFL.

Stern said SEIU has 150,000 members in the upcoming primary states, starting with Wisconsin, which votes Tuesday. The union will also work on the ground for Obama next month in Ohio and Texas, two big contests the Clinton campaign considers must-wins. After that comes Pennsylvania.

"When we do an endorsement we take it seriously," said Anna Burger, the union's secretary-treasurer and political architect. "We think that by getting in now we can be determinative in the next couple of states."

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