Unions Putting Time, Money, Energy To Task of Campaigning for Clinton
WASHINGTON--The National Education Association--and, to a lesser extent, the American Federation of Teachers--has launched an all-out campaign to urge its members to help elect Bill Clinton to the White House.
"We have, for the first time, released all of our resources--a tremendous amount of resources--both staff, as well as monetary, to do our member-to-member campaign on behalf of the Clinton-Gore team,'' said Debra S. DeLee, the director of government relations for the N.E.A.
As of last week, approximately 60 of the organization's 500 national staff members were in the field, helping to coordinate campaign activities. "And we expect that for the last two weeks of the campaign, we'll probably have around 100 staff out there,'' Ms. DeLee said.
The N.E.A.'s unabashed zeal to support the Democratic candidate has raised the hackles of at least some Republican union members.
Asked their reaction to the union's effort, G.O.P. members complained that resources that would normally go to collective bargaining were being diverted, and some said they worry that the N.E.A.'s position does not reflect the opinion of rank-and-file teachers.
The union's activities could also bolster the Bush Administration's contention that Mr. Clinton is under the N.E.A.'s control on education issues.
The teachers' unions are not the only labor associations pushing hard to elect a Democrat to the White House. Organized labor as a whole is solidly behind one candidate for the first time in years.
The Teamsters, which last backed a Democratic contender in 1968, plan to spend $4 million for Governor Clinton and Congressional candidates and on election issues this year. The usually Republican-leaning Air Line Pilots Association also endorsed Mr. Clinton, the first Presidential endorsement in its history.
"Lots of unions are giving us more than they've given for a long time,'' said Rick Bloomingdale, the labor liaison for the Clinton-Gore campaign. Mr. Bloomingdale attributed the shift to the sour economy and to greater enthusiasm among rank-and-file union members for Mr. Clinton than for other Presidential candidates in previous elections.
'A Class by Itself'
But at least one political observer, Larry J. Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia, described the N.E.A.'s election-year effort as "almost in a class by itself.''
"And the Clinton campaign would be the first to acknowledge that,'' he argued.
Every state affiliate of the N.E.A. now has a Clinton-Gore campaign coordinator, many of whom are provided by the national office, and a team of up to seven people to help turn out union voters on behalf of the Democratic ticket.
In addition, the organization has a six-person "rapid response team'' based in Washington to answer requests from the field; a toll-free telephone number with daily updates on election activities; and a national employee based in Little Rock, Ark., until the campaign is over.
Jerry L. Carruthers, a government-relations specialist, said he is serving as the "eyes and ears of the N.E.A. for the campaign.''
Mr. Carruthers, who is normally based in Washington, spends several hours a day attending meetings at the Clinton headquarters.
"I try to sit in on most of them to be sure that I'm not missing anything, as far as education is concerned,'' he said.
But he stressed that he is not an active participant. "I communicate to our headquarters, which then communicates out to the states,'' he added.
In past years, the campaign headquarters for the Democratic Presidential contender has typically been in Washington, making a position like Mr. Carruthers's unnecessary.
In addition, Keith B. Geiger, the president of the N.E.A., said the amount of campaign materials that the union has produced for its members has approximately doubled from previous elections.
The national office has sent out 16,000 campaign kits to its local affiliates, including a videotape of Mr. Clinton addressing the union's Representative Assembly in July, literature comparing the candidates on issues, and talking points to use with N.E.A. members. The kit also includes a diskette that generates materials that affiliates can adapt to their own needs.
'As Clear a Choice'
"We've never really put the kind of effort into a Presidential campaign that we've put into this campaign,'' Ms. DeLee said. "We just believe that there's never been as clear a choice, as far as education issues, as there is in 1992.''
The N.E.A. and the Bush Administration have been at loggerheads over the past four years on issues ranging from school funding to private-school choice.
By contrast, Robert F. Chase, the union's vice president, said: "We do believe in Bill Clinton. It's not a situation where it's an anyone-but-Bush type of campaign.''
"The fact that we see, also, a very good chance of Governor Clinton winning,'' he added, "increases the enthusiasm.''
Both the N.E.A., with more than two million members, and the smaller A.F.T., with nearly 800,000 members, claim that they are doing more than in previous elections because their members expect it.
Although the N.E.A. has not polled its members directly, 88 percent of the delegates to its Representative Assembly voted to endorse Mr. Clinton. "And that was by far the largest vote to endorse a Presidential candidate that we have ever had,'' said Dick VanderWoude, a government-relations specialist.
The A.F.T., which has a sizable Republican membership, polled its members in July, after the Democratic convention. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed supported Mr. Clinton, compared with 19 percent for Mr. Bush, 11 percent undecided, and 2 percent who preferred not to answer. In 1988, 40 percent of the union's members said they had voted for Mr. Bush.
Like the N.E.A., the smaller A.F.T. has gone the extra mile to help get Mr. Clinton elected.
As of last week, Rachelle Horowitz, the political director for the A.F.T., said, 10 of the union's 35 national organizers were working full time with local affiliates on the campaign. After Congress's expected adjournment late last week, she added, "everyone in the legislative department [a total of six individuals] is either going to go out into the field or work here on politics.''
In addition, for the first time, about 10 local affiliates are paying for substitute teachers so that their local political directors can devote all of their energy to the campaign between now and Nov. 3. In the past, Ms. Horowitz noted, the national office has begged to get even one week's worth of time from such individuals.
The national office has also undertaken a few new initiatives of its own.
It has produced a videotape of Mr. Clinton; Albert Shanker, the president of the A.F.T.; and Joyce Elliott, an Arkansas teacher, to mail to members' homes. Local union presidents have been asked to personalize the videotape by adding introductory and concluding remarks.
After a survey revealed that 59 percent of A.F.T. members had answering machines, the union also developed a special message asking people who were not at home to call back for more information. And the union is paying more attention to letting its members know where Mr. Clinton or his Vice-Presidential running mate, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, are scheduled to speak.
A group calling itself the A.F.T. "Bush-Whackers'' has also recorded a cassette of anti-Bush songs, sung to familiar pop tunes, titled "Am-Bush at the White House.''
In addition, Ms. Horowitz said, the two unions are engaging in an "unprecedented'' amount of cooperative activity, including sharing phone banks and campaign costs in some states.
'A Very Fine Line'
But while the amount of member-to-member campaigning far exceeds previous standards, union officials said it all falls well within the legal guidelines for what they are allowed to do during an election year.
According to the Federal Election Commission, a labor organization may use funds from its general treasury to urge its members, its executive and administrative personnel, and the families of both groups to support or oppose particular candidates.
It may also set up a phone bank to urge its members to vote for particular candidates; conduct partisan voter-registration and get-out-the-vote drives aimed only at its members, its employees, and their families; and encourage these groups to contribute directly to candidates endorsed by the organization, although it may not facilitate the making of those contributions.
In addition, a union may produce and distribute publications of a partisan nature to its members. Although the material can contain brief quotes from the candidates or from their prepared materials, it cannot be a reproduction of campaign literature.
Unions must also report the costs of partisan communications that exceed a total of $2,000. According to Mr. VanderWoude, the N.E.A. has gone above that figure, but it does not have to file a report with the æŸåŸãŸ until later this month.
Said Ms. Horowitz of the A.F.T., "As long as we're talking to our membership, we are fairly much free to do what we want.''
But, she added, "The law runs a very fine line.''
For example, she said, although the unions are allowed to coordinate their activities with the Clinton-Gore campaign, "we can't be campaigning for them.'' And when union representatives hand out Clinton-Gore posters to A.F.T. members, she said, they have to say, "'These posters are for the union meeting hall,' and, hopefully, it will work out.''
Because Mr. Clinton did not accept money from political-action committees during the primaries--and cannot accept such funds during the general election--the political-action arms of both teachers' unions have not contributed to his campaign directly. But both have given the maximum allowable limit of $15,000 hard cash to the Democratic National Committee and much more in so-called "soft'' money.
At least some observers are troubled, however, by what they view as the N.E.A.'s brazen support for the Democratic candidate.
'99.9 Percent' Approval?
Mark Mix, the vice president for the National Right to Work Committee, an advocacy group that opposes collective bargaining, said, "Union members across the country who are forced to pay dues to keep their jobs ought to know how much this is costing them.''
Ronald M. Roman, an N.E.A. delegate to the Republican national convention and a high school teacher in Edison, N.J., said he "absolutely'' has a problem with the union's election-year activities.
"They're using the full force of the el15lN.E.A. in trying to get Bill Clinton elected,'' he complained. "I doubt whether the liberal leadership in Washington reflects the true feelings of the average teacher who's out there teaching students every day.''
But Mr. Chase, the union's vice president, countered, "I have not heard of any big outcry from Republican members on our activities at all.'' And Mr. Geiger said he "did not get one criticism'' last month when he addressed an audience of 150 Wyoming members, many of whom were Republicans.
Although the union's executive board never formally voted on the N.E.A.'s election-year activities, Mr. Geiger added: "I think it probably would have 99.9 percent approval. And, in fact, when we went through the endorsements at the political-action council, and then at the board, and then at the Representative Assembly, we were very upfront in all of that discussion, saying that we would be putting more energy into this election than we ever had.''
The unions' support of Mr. Clinton has also led to charges from Republicans that the Arkansas Governor is a captive of special-interest groups.
"The N.E.A. only likes people it can control,'' Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander asserted this summer, following the union's endorsement of Mr. Clinton.
Given the unions' efforts, Mr. Sabato of the University of Virginia observed, "It's clear that the N.E.A. is going to have a major role in shaping education policy under a Clinton Administration.''
But he added: "A good President has to be able to say no to his favorite interest groups from time to time. Will Clinton do that? I don't know. I don't think anyone knows.''
Union officials hotly contest any assertion that Mr. Clinton is beholden to them.
"That's silly,'' Mr. Shanker said. "Sure, he's associated with us. And George Bush is associated with the savings-and-loans folks in his own family ... with Saddam Hussein, whom he coddled, with the butchers of Tiananmen Square.''
Although Mr. Clinton has met with Mr. Shanker on several occasions, he has met with Mr. Geiger only once, when Mr. Geiger interviewed him as part of the N.E.A.'s Presidential endorsement process.
"I don't look for somebody who's going to call me and say, 'What do you want me to do next?''' Mr. Geiger said.
But he added that, if Mr. Clinton is elected, he expects the N.E.A. to have some input into the work of his transition team.
"I mean, let's face it,'' he added, "George Bush got all of his suggestions from the C.E.O.'s that are making lots of money. Why would anybody be surprised if Bill Clinton was going to get his suggestions from another group of people, and that we might just be part of that group.''