April 16, 2015

Could Trade Deal Be Hillary Clinton’s Next Food Fight?


The following article was published in National Journal:

Hillary Clinton must choose between her president and her base on the latest trade deal in Congress – and now she has more food for thought.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union urged Congress today to defeat fast-track legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, both supported by President Obama. Worse for Clinton, union chief Marc Perrone issued a thinly veiled threat to Democratic politicians who defy his members.

“Given all we know, how any elected official, Democrat or Republican, can support TPP is inexplicable,” the union’s new president wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “Let me be very clear, no elected official, regardless of political party, who is truly interested in making the economy better and fairer, can responsibly support the TPP. Simply put, this trade deal, like so many others, is bad for our workers, families, and shared future.”

The move is a blow to Obama because the UFCW has a history of being open to trade deals; Perrone was lobbied heavily by the White House. More significant: The union is among the top donors to Democratic congressional candidates, contributing $1.7 million to Obama’s party last cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The move is a threat to Clinton. While Perrone said in a statement to National Journal that “the primary focus right now is every member of Congress,” he suggested the focus will shift to the Democratic front-runner.

“When deciding who to support in 2016, we will wait and see what the 2016 candidates say and do on trade, but we will strongly consider all of the issues important to hard-working families, including the TPP,” the statement said.

Clinton is in a no-win position. In March, Politico explained it this way:

If she comes out for fast track, it will alienate her labor and environmental base. If she opposes the legislation, it puts her at odds with President Barack Obama and her previous support as secretary of state for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, opening her to charges of being a flip-flopper.

Progressive Democrats urging Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to get in the presidential race want Clinton to clarify her position as early as possible, given pending action in Congress on a “fast track” trade promotion authority bill, said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America, the group founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

The UFCW decision is designed to remind Clinton and other Democrats that they can’t take unions or union workers for granted, according to a UFCW official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Elected in December to head the union of 1.3 million members, Perrone is trying to increase the relevance of the UFCW and unions in general after decades of declining membership and might.