The country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for the 2016 Presidential election, providing a boost in support in the highly competitive Democratic primary race.
The NEA’s support, and its 3 million members, will be welcomed by Clinton as she runs against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders is currently doing well with liberal Democrats and has raised almost as much money as Clinton in the past three weeks, reports The Associated Press.
“We chose Hillary Clinton because she chose kids. She’s had kids in her heart from pre-school to graduate school,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia in a phone interview.
Clinton spoke to the NEA’s 175-member board for over an hour and touched on testing, special education, and college affordability. There are still many members who back Sanders and attempted to convince labor leaders not to endorse Clinton in the coming four months before the first Iowa and New Hampshire contests.
Eskelsen Garcia said that since 75% of the NEA board supported Clinton, the union decided it was prudent to support Clinton during the primaries because the timing could have more influence. Clinton shared her plans to create a universal pre-K system and increase money for Head Start. She also agreed to “ensure that teachers always have a voice and a seat at the table.”
Sanders did not speak to the board in person, but answered questions from Eskelsen Garcia on a video that was shown at the union’s summer convention. In the video, Sanders said he was proud of the support of NEA members and trade unionists nationwide.
At this time, Clinton has been endorsed by eight labor unions with approximately seven million members, and both national teachers unions.
Labor, says the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is a key sector for acquiring volunteers and funds for Democrats, which makes winning over labor a priority in order to avoid a possible damaging and drawn-out primary battle.
On Friday, the International Association of Fire Fighters withdrew its initial support for Clinton, a blow to her campaign. This setback, along with the ongoing ongoing chatter about her use of a private email server while she was serving as Secretary of State, is of concern to the Clinton camp.
Over the past five days, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found Clinton to have 44% of support within the Democratic party, while Sanders had 28%. In August, however, Clinton had 56% support.
Labor leaders are anxious to see where Clinton’s opinion falls concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a projected free-trade agreement which the president has backed, but which unions see as bad for US jobs and wages.
Clinton has responded by saying the final agreement on TPP must protect American workers.
The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton points out that Clinton has received funding over the course of her public life from wealthy supporters of charter schools, including Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and Alice Walton, a primary shareholder of Walmart.
“She’s raised a lot of Wall Street money and from corporate entities,” said Marie Corfield, an art teacher from New Jersey, who supports Sanders. “Educators are tired of being blamed, kicked down, our schools underfunded, our schools segregated, and we are tired of being blamed for all the ills of society. We want a president who is going to support free and fully funded public schools and an education workforce that’s respected. I’m not convinced that’s Hillary Clinton.”
The New York Times reports that Eskelsen Garcia does understand that not all union members are supportive of the endorsement, and she encourages members to “vote their heart.” Still, she feels that Clinton is the candidate who has the strongest commitment to the union’s issues.