Sen. Kamala Harris is making a big play for union support in her run for President, focusing principally on education and childcare workers.
Teachers’ unions have been financially hammered by the Supreme Court decision in Janus and are shopping for a vocal candidate they can get behind and support, ideally one who will not only push pro-labor policy but also use the bully pulpit to advocate for their members’ interests.
With her proposal to massively bump teacher pay through federal funding, Harris could be it.
As noted yesterday, in the first quarter of 2019, her presidential campaign took in at least 11,000 donations from educators.
This should further endear her to organized labor, which is a powerful ally in Democratic Party politics not just because of its organizing and door-knocking potential, but also because of those prized small-dollar donations from rank-and-file, strongly pro-union individuals.
In California, the California Teachers Association is of course a force to be reckoned with– according to CAL Matters columnist Dan Walters, CTA “swept the table, including the elections of Gavin Newsom as governor and Tony Thurmond as state superintendent of schools, and stronger Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature” in 2018.
Harris would love to have the CTA, and other unions, on board with her, particularly as she may need to combat stereotyping that sometimes results in strongly pro-union, largely white rank-and-file union members displaying skepticism of minority Democrats who are viewed to be more favorable to charter schools and vouchers– two initiatives educators’ unions strongly oppose.
Having those unions onside could also help draw a contrast both with former Vice President Joe Biden, should he enter the presidential race, and fellow Sen. Cory Booker.
Biden, despite his own close ties with organized labor like the firefighters’ union, was on the Obama ticket when it struggled to get an endorsement from major teachers’ unions until very late in the 2008 race.
Booker has been supportive of union-opposed measures like charter schools.
Harris is unlikely to top Sen. Bernie Sanders when it comes to earning the love of the most hardcore labor activists. However, with all of these moves, she could present herself as the most electable alternative to Sanders who can also maintain strong union support.
Or at least that’s what she seems to be banking on. The question is, how will it sell to Democrats who are not quite as fond of unions as many in the base, but who still vote in large numbers? Time will tell for Kamala.