At the AFL-CIO meeting this week that endorsed Barack Obama, one union president, Thomas Buffenbarger of the Machinists, voted “present.”  In a letter to his members, Buffenbarger explained:

Now is not the right time for the IAM to endorse Senator Barack Obama... Our members feel the economy squeezing their family finances for every last dime, every single week ... But those meat and potato issues have not found a place in the message frame developed by Senator Obama's campaign. To us, hope and change are not antidotes to the economic pressures blue-collar families face... In the Machinists Union, a predominately blue-collar union, the impression continues to grow that Senator Barack Obama could care less about folks like us. At the plant closings in Galesburg [where a Maytag plant moved its operations to Mexico] and Herrin, in llinois and during our fight to save pensions at United Airlines, he never lifted a finger to help our members... In phone calls to IAM members, Senator Obama never broke 18 percent in any state. He came in third, often a distant third, behind Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain.  And our union made over a quarter million calls to its members.

It’s not in his letter, but Buffenbarger was also miffed when the Obama campaign failed to respond to phone calls this spring asking him to denounce the Pentagon decision to buy a new tanker fleet from Northrop Grumman, working in cooperation with AIRBUS, rather than from the Chicago-based Boeing company. The Northrop-Grumman planes would have been built partly in Toulouse, France. During the Washington primary in March, Obama had initially offered a tepid criticism of the decision, but at a town meeting in Wilkes Barre during the Pennsylvania primary, Obama had appeared to defend the Pentagon award to Northrop-Grumman and Airbus, infuriating the Machinists whose workers would have built the planes.   

 Update: This post is not meant to imply that unions are turning against Obama, who has been endorsed by both federations. It's about one union's beef with Obama. 


--John B. Judis