The Service Employees International Union takes the top prize as President Obama’s favorite labor union. President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger have visited the White House nearly 60 times, including 11 meetings with Obama and another with Vice President Biden.
The White House yesterday released more than 25,000 visitor records from Sept. 16-30. Included in the release were nearly 2,000 pre-Sept. 16 records based on specific requests. The records are publicly available on WhiteHouse.gov.
SEIU’s Stern and Burger visited the White House three times in September; a fourth meeting was canceled. Their 58 total visits (27 by Stern and 31 by Burger) dating to the start of the Obama administration far outpace their fellow union leaders. Earlier this month Americans for Tax Reform and the Alliance for Worker Freedom requested a lobbying investigation into the SEIU given its close ties to the White House.
Next on the list is AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka with nine visits, followed by United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, who has been to the White House eight times. Gerard scored an invite to see Obama greet the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Sept. 10. United Steelworkers is headquartered in Pittsburgh.
Stern, Burger, Trumka and Gerard were the only four union leaders to have personal meetings with Obama. Burger, known as the “Queen of Labor,” serves on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
The records present a glimpse into who has access to Obama and his staff. While Stern’s frequent visits come as no surprise — a previous release showed his close ties to the White House — the latest set of data offers more clues about who’s in and who’s not.
Teamsters President James Hoffa, for instance, shows up only once on the list for a Sept. 29 for a meeting with Nate Tamarin, associate White House political director who serves as a liaison to labor unions.
Most of the labor leaders whose names appear in the records were at the same meeting with Tamarin, who previously ran Obama’s presidential campaign in Illinois. Others at the meeting included Burger, Stern, Trumka, American Rights at Work Chairman David Bonier, Communications Workers President Lawrence Cohen, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, Electrical Workers President Edwin Hill, American Rights at Work Executive Director Mary Beth Maxwell, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, Christyne Neff of United Food and Commercial Workers, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
One of the last meetings covered by the records took place on Sept. 29 with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and three top officials from the AFL-CIO: Trumka, General Counsel Jonathan Hiatt and Government Affairs Director William Samuel.
The influence of labor leaders on the White House isn’t all that surprising. Big Labor spent an estimated $450 million on the 2008 election, and the SEIU alone put $85 million into the political campaign — almost $30 million just for Obama’s election.
Yet despite the frequency of visits, the pace of progress on Big Labor’s priorities has disappointed union leaders. Politico reported earlier this month that many labor leaders are hoping 2010 produces better results, including passage of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, which would strip workers of their right to vote in private and give control of the workplace to government bureaucrats.
Union leaders expressed further frustration over the health care bill that emerged in the Senate. In order to raise money, Democrats plan to tax Cadillac health insurance packages that are common for unions. Several unions, including the AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America and National Education Association, have criticized the legislation for what would amount to a 40 percent tax on those plans.