The latest WikiLeaks document dump — containing emails by high-ranking staffers of the Democratic National Committee — caused considerable heartburn for America’s oldest political party. Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign over charges she helped rig the primary process against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But what’s just as interesting is the dog that didn’t bark — the fact that wasn’t regarded as a scandal but perhaps ought to have been.
Even casual political observers can see that labor union leadership and the Democratic Party are allied. AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka spoke at the convention the other night, endorsing Hillary Clinton and calling the Republican nominee “wrong, wrong, wrong” for America.
Yet the emails that have been released highlight the rather one-way relationship between the Democratic Party and labor unions. DNC staffers see the unions as good soldiers in skirmishes with Republicans, as a pain when it comes to getting things done and, ultimately, as pushovers.
When brainstorming what to do about last week’s Republican National Convention, the DNC’s Rachel Palermo urged her party to “meet with the hotel trades, SEIU, and Fight for 15 about staging a strike.” She said the result could be a “fast food worker strike around the city or just at franchises around the convention.” The aim would not be to improve working conditions, but to bloody Republicans.
Alternately, the DNC could “infiltrate friendly union hotels and properties around the convention that Republicans will be patronizing to distribute ‘care’ packages” — probably not chocolates.
Palermo also noted that “SEIU has space in downtown Cleveland close to convention that can be the base of operations and host the wrapped mobile RV.”
The union-DNC alliance does impose a few constraints on the DNC, which staffers both mocked and worked to circumvent. DNC staffer Katja Greeson, for instance, complained about delays involved in getting new business cards printed.
She explained to an irked communications director that sending work to union shops caused delays. “Believe me — it is equally frustrating to us,” she said. Greeson also threatened “if they can’t deliver,” DNC staffers would “go to FedEx Kinkos” and do it themselves.
The DNC pledges to use only unionized hotels. But it turns out there’s a workaround for that, too. Trey Kovacs, who has done yeoman’s work spelunking through the DNC WikiLeaks dump, uncovered this one. In an exchange over whether they could use the non-union Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., a DNC staffer says they could just get a “waiver” to use it.
“It is unclear from the emails how or what circumstances must arise to obtain a waiver, but it seems that convenience for the chairman trumps loyalty to adhering to some kind of internal guidelines of exclusively patronizing unionized establishments,” Kovacs, a policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told me Wednesday.
Because this document dump has emails both to and from the DNC, we also hear from the unions themselves, which might explain why the party can count on their support come-what-may.
For instance, Sandra Lyon of the American Federation of Teachers asked for any “regular talking points” the DNC might have to pass on to AFT folks who speak with the media.
And the National Education Organization’s political communications director Michael Misterek wrote longingly to the DNC in May, “I’m hoping we can sit down to meet some time soon, over coffee or a cocktail. I’d love to figure out how we can work together and be most helpful to each other these next few months.”
Jeremy Lott is an adjunct scholar at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.