AFL-CIO endorses Ellison for DNC chair

AFL-CIO endorses Ellison for DNC chair
© Greg Nash

The AFL-CIO endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to take over a Democratic National Committee (DNC) that was rocked by scandal during the 2016 campaign season.

“Ellison meets the high standard working people expect from leaders of our political parties,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday in a statement. “He is a proven leader who will focus on year-round grassroots organizing to deliver for working families across America. Under his leadership, the Democratic Party will embody the values that our members stand for every day.”

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Ellison is seen as an early frontrunner in the race for DNC chairman, having secured union support and endorsements from incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell launches ad touting role in passing coronavirus relief Joe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill MORE (N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Biden faces pesky enthusiasm challenge despite big primary numbers MORE (D-Mass.).

But with many saying the party needs a dramatic overhaul in the wake of a disastrous election cycle, there's been a push to widen the field of candidates. Most Democrats believe other candidates are preparing to jump in the race, hinting at uneasiness with Ellison within parts of the party.

A source told The Hill Wednesday that President Obama and Vice President Biden are personally urging Labor Secretary Tom Perez to join the race. And NARAL president Ilyse Hogue and DNC National Finance Chairman Henry Munoz are also considering bids.

The AFL-CIO is the nation’s largest labor organization, and it’s endorsement carries weight inside the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Some labor leaders are now furious with Trumka, accusing him of seeking to arrange a coronation for Ellison to the detriment of one of their own – Perez.

The Labor secretary approached Trumka to express interest in running for DNC chairman and to let him know he'd want the AFL-CIO’s support if he did. The other two announced candidates – South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley -- also asked Trumka for the AFL-CIO’s endorsement.

But in a letter to members, Trumka called Ellison the favorite and said the labor giant would have members vote on whether to endorse him. No other names were on the AFL-CIO ballot for consideration.

There are 56 unions under the AFL-CIO. Of those, fewer than half -- 26 unions -- voted to endorse Ellison. Seven unions voted not to endorse Ellison, and 23 abstained.

That has infuriated some labor leaders, such as International Association of Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger, who called Trumka's actions “contemptible,” in a letter to the labor leader obtained by The Hill.

“Rushing the Federations vote for a DNC Chair endorsement was a major political miscalculation for the AFL-CIO," he added in a statement to The Hill. 

"There is a faction at the Federation that seems to want to push our movement further and further to the left. That is a recipe for disaster as the most recent election results just showed and as we try to get things done in the next Congress and with the next President.” 

But other top unions, such as the United Steelworkers and Communications Workers of America (CWA), have also endorsed Ellison, who said this week he would resign from Congress if he becomes DNC chairman.

He also has support from top labor leaders such as American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

"The AFL-CIO knows the challenges facing America’s working families and how to speak to working Americans of all colors, genders, and backgrounds,” Ellison said in a statement. “I am proud to be on their side and I am even prouder that the AFL-CIO is on mine. Workers will be central to the Democratic Party.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the former DNC chairwoman, and her replacement, interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile, have come under fire over allegations they conspired to help Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much GOP challenger seizes on outrage against Massie Juan Williams: Mueller, one year on MORE secure the party’s nomination over Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Sanders still sees 'narrow path' to Democratic presidential nomination Tenants call on lawmakers to pass rent freezes MORE (I-Vt.).

Jonathan Easley contributed.

Updated 2:01 p.m.