Major Labor Union Endorses Nina Turner In Ohio Special Election

The Amalgamated Transit Union endorsed former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner’s congressional run on Tuesday, giving the progressive contender a major boost in the competitive race to fill a Cleveland-area congressional seat.

The transportation workers union’s Cleveland chapter, Local 268, counts an estimated 1,800 members in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, where Turner is running.

“We trust Nina Turner to fight for our families, support our union, bolster public transit, recover from this pandemic, and deliver for American workers in Congress because of her longstanding history of fighting for our values,” ATU International President John Costa said in a statement. 

Turner welcomed the endorsement, calling transportation workers “the backbone of our region’s economy.”

Nina Turner, who was co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is running in the special election for the 11th Congressional District seat in Ohio.

“I stand with Ohio’s working families and the poor, working poor, and barely middle class across this country, and I am extremely grateful to have the trust and endorsement of the ATU members,” Turner said in a statement.

Turner, 53, is one of five Democrats competing to succeed Rep. Marcia Fudge, whom President Joe Biden has nominated to serve as secretary of housing and urban development. The Democratic primary election to replace Fudge is expected to occur in May, but an official date will not be called until the Senate confirms Fudge and she formally vacates the seat.

Turner’s early backing of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in November 2015 catapulted her into progressive stardom. She has since run the progressive nonprofit Our Revolution that emerged from Sanders’s first bid, served as a top aide on Sanders’s second bid in 2020 and founded her own political consulting firm.

Not surprisingly, Turner has quickly unified the activist left, including lawmakers like Sanders, behind her bid.

But she is up against much of Cleveland’s Democratic establishment, which has coalesced around Shontel Brown, 45, a Cuyahoga County councilwoman who also chairs the county party.

Brown enjoys the backing of Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), as well as an array of local elected officials, ministers, pro-Israel groups and building trade unions, including the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council. 

After working as a top aide in Sanders's 2020 presidential bid, Nina Turner formed a political consulting firm.

After working as a top aide in Sanders’s 2020 presidential bid, Nina Turner formed a political consulting firm.

The ATU, by contrast, is the first union to endorse Turner’s bid. The backing of the 200,000-member union signals that Turner’s appeal extends beyond the Democratic Party’s most progressive corners and into the mainstream, multiracial working class that populates Cleveland, Akron and their satellite communities.

Given the ATU’s ties to the Democratic mainstream, the union’s blessing also is a vote of confidence in Turner’s partisan credentials. The ATU was one of the first unions to endorse then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, backing his campaign ahead of the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

That kind of institutional support is likely to be critical for Turner, who is unafraid to break with Democratic leadership and is already taking heat for it. Brown and her allies have sought to define Brown as a “partner” to Biden rather than a “thorn” in the president’s side, implying that Turner might be in the latter category. For her part, Turner insists that she is merely a “thorn in the side of injustice” and plans to prioritize her constituents above all else.

The ATU’s endorsement also attests to Turner’s deep roots in Ohio’s labor movement. Her advocacy for a referendum overturning a law that restricted public-sector bargaining rights won her the loyalty of her successor in the state Senate, Democratic Caucus Chair Kenny Yuko.

“There has never been a time when Nina Turner did not stand with Ohio’s working men and women,” William H. Nix Sr., president of ATU Local 268, said in a statement. “She is a trusted ally to the hard-working families of our community, and we know she will ensure we are not left out as America begins to recover from this pandemic.”

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