Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Union man

A Beaverton couple leads one of only two municipal employee union chapters in the nation to endorse Obama over Clinton in presidential race
by: Jaime Valdez, Sue Lee Allen and Ken Allen of Beaverton, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, wait anxiously to see presidential hopeful Barack Obama

It's pretty easy to find the home of Ken Allen and Sue Lee-Allen. Theirs is the one in south Beaverton covered with Obama '08 signs.

But the impact of the couple's roadside statement reaches far beyond their suburban neighborhood.

Allen and Lee-Allen are, respectively, executive director and organizing director for the Oregon chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - one of only two chapters in the nation to endorse the Illinois senator over the national board's decision to back New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. The other chapter is in Illinois.

'We believe he's the kind of president who will make a difference,' Allen said at a March 21 rally at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland. He pointed to Sen. Barack Obama's experience in mobilizing hospital employees in Illinois and the labor legislation he authored in Congress.

'He's really been on the front lines,' he said.

The national leadership, representing 1.4 million government employees, endorsed New York Sen. Hillary Clinton five months ago, saying it plans to 'spend more than $60 million on the 2008 campaign, and will mobilize a 40,000-member army of volunteers to elect Sen. Clinton.'

AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee, who has close ties to the Clintons, said that the decision was based on extensive polls. The 10-month study suggested that Clinton 'enjoys deep support among its members.'

But Allen argues that the polls were conducted in September, 'which is way too early.

'People didn't know who Barack Obama was,' he said. 'They should have started polling in January or February when people started paying attention.'

On March 15, with a landslide vote of 60 to 3, the Oregon AFSCME board decided to support Obama.

Though that means the national leadership is 'very angry,' Allen doesn't seem to mind the split.

'We're independent in Oregon,' he said. 'Our leaders voted overwhelmingly to support Barack Obama, and that's who we're going to listen to - our leaders right here.'

He added that only the top union leadership is supporting Clinton and suspects that many other rank-and-file AFSCME members nationwide will follow Oregon's lead.

AFSCME officials declined comment on the split and what it may mean for the way it plans to endorse candidates in the future.

Nick Shapiro, Obama's campaign spokesman, said the campaign was 'thrilled' to have the endorsement, adding that 'Sen. Obama has been a strong ally of labor … he reflects the same values and priorities that AFSCME stands for.'

Shapiro added that he believes 'other candidates' may have gotten the union's support through relationships developed while spending more time in Washington, D.C.

Back in Oregon, Allen said he and his wife will continue to urge their chapter's 22,000 members to vote for Obama in the May 20 primary.

Lee-Allen said she's even planning to take vacation time to go to Pennsylvania to help organize for the April 22 primary there.

'He's not just a candidate,' Lee-Allen said. 'I think it's a movement.'


See related stories:

Obama hopes Oregon's 'important' primary supports his nomination fight

Obama rides enthusiasm on I-5 swing