And The Next President Is . . .

Do you jump for joy — or flip out — when a union representing federal postal workers endorses a candidate for the White House?

Is it appropriate — or not — for people who deliver your mail, collect your taxes or handle your disputed Social Security claim to come out in favor of the Democratic or Republican candidate for the nation’s top office?

Does the endorsement of the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Association of Letter Carriers or the National Treasury Employees Union help or hurt a candidate?

Like it or not (and many card-carrying union members love it) federal and postal unions have a long history of endorsing presidential candidates. Usually they do it after the candidate has been nominated. But in some cases unions — usually pushed by a politically-active president — also endorse candidates while still in the primary and caucus stage.

Stung by premature evaluation of pre-primary candidates, most unions are withholding their endorsements until they can see who gets the nomination. Or at least a likely front-runner.

An exception this year is the National Association of Letter Carriers, one of the largest in the federal family. Appropriately enough, the NALC conducted a postcard poll of its members and the big winner was Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). It gave her the nod on September 12th. An official of the AFL-CIO union said there were no Republican candidates on the postcard ballot because none of them answered a questionnaire sent out by the union. All the Democrats did, he said.

Over the years most of the union endorsements have gone to Democratic candidates, but there have been exceptions. In the 1970’s the presidents of both the NALC and the AFGE gave “personal” endorsements for reelection to President Richard M. Nixon. So did the head of another large independent federal union.

In 1980 the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization broke ranks and endorsed Ronald Reagan (over Jimmy Carter) for the White House. It did so largely because of his promise to fire the then-head of the FAA (a Democratic appointee when elected). Some months after Reagan took office, PATCO went out on strike over pay demands. Reagan gave them a short window to return, then fired thousands of the controllers. Strikes by government workers against the government were, and still are, illegal.

When it comes to the number of card-carrying members, unions talk about how many employees they represent rather then the actual number of dues-paying members they have. But they can be influential and helpful both in supplying people (employee-members as volunteers and paid staffers as campaign helpers) and money. In 2004, Government Executive reported that the political action committes (PAC’s) of many federal and postal unions gave more money-per-member to candidates than many non-federal unions that have more members and more PAC money.

GovExec said that, in the last election, the NTEU leadership urged each of its members, “to volunteer 10 hours in a campaign.”

Some union PAC’s endorse candidates at a variety of federal levels each election.

Democratic incumbents and candidates usually get the nod although there are nearly always a few Republicans — about as rare as the ivory-billed woodpecker — on the approved list.

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