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labor Exclusive: Machinists union to announce new endorsement process for 2020

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers unveiled a new endorsement process for the 2020 presidential race, shifting influence from its top brass to state union leaders and the rank and file.

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The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers will unveil Monday a new endorsement process for the 2020 presidential race, shifting influence from its top brass to state union leaders and the rank and file.

The new system, which union president Bob Martinez is set to announce at a legislative conference in Washington, seeks to pressure the Democratic field into canvassing early voting states to earn support directly from workers. This is a departure from the traditional union endorsement system, in which candidates court labor leaders behind closed doors.

“The candidates are already calling me,” Martinez said in an interview. “I am telling them that we’re rolling out this new process and that they need to go to our locals and our districts, our state councils, our conferences.”

For decades, union leaders have wielded outsize influence in Democratic politics, marshaling their members to vote for specific candidates. IAM’s new system will likely prompt the primary field to alter its approach to winning support from the union’s 550,000 current and retired members.

“We told Amy Klobuchar … and Sen. [Bernie] Sanders, you know, that they’re going to need to go to the membership,” Martinez said. “Don’t come to me or the executive council looking for an endorsement because we’re not going to give it to you until after our membership has voted on it.”

The change comes as unions are rethinking their approach after 2016, when many endorsed Hillary Clinton early on and faced backlash from Sanders supporters. The machinists union endorsed Clinton in August 2015, and Martinez said discussions began about changing the system when he took control in January the following year.

Some unions are considering whether to get rid of endorsements entirely, but Martinez said IAM did not want to sit on the sidelines.

“We haven’t always been right,” Martinez said. “If our membership is given a voice on the endorsement, they’re not to come back as sometimes in the past they have and say, ‘Hey, I supported this candidate, and you endorsed this candidate.’”

The new process will require multiple steps, beginning with members voting online for a candidate in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Leaders of the union’s political arms in each state will then weigh in based on the members’ picks. After Super Tuesday, the union will make an endorsement in both primaries with the blessing of the national executive council.

After both parties have nominated a candidate, delegates to the union’s convention will vote on a general election endorsement in September 2020.

It's all but a forgone conclusion that the union will ultimately endorse the Democratic nominee, but Martinez said the executive council won't likely intervene if members decide to endorse President Donald Trump.

“I would have to have a discussion with them, further discussions with them about that, but I don’t see that happening,” Martinez said.

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