The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is garnering national headlines for its effort to organize Amazon workers, has endorsed former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D) for a soon-to-be-open U.S. House seat.
The union’s blessing provides Turner with another key source of mainstream credibility in her bid for the seat in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) is due to vacate. President Joe Biden nominated Fudge to serve as secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Senate is on track to confirm her shortly.
In a statement welcoming the endorsement she received, Turner said, “Every worker deserves a union and I’m honored to have earned the support of the RWDSU.” If elected, she pledged to work “to strengthen and expand our unions and protect the working families of Ohio.”
The RWDSU, which is part of the much larger United Food and Commercial Workers union, represents 60,000 workers in the retail, grocery store, poultry processing and warehouse sectors, including 5,000 members in Ohio.
Turner “is a strong and effective voice for the concerns of working people,” Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU’s president, told HuffPost.
The union has won national attention for its campaign to organize the predominantly Black workforce at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. The effort is the first bid to force a union vote at an Amazon facility and has, accordingly, attracted fierce opposition from the retail giant.
Turner is among those Democratic politicians who have actively supported the unionization effort ― both in public and in private.
“She’s been an important ally in strategizing on our Amazon campaign and we like that,” Appelbaum said. “We want congresspeople who are not just going to be supporters, but congresspeople who are going to be activists in their support.”
Appelbaum also lauded Turner for being an experienced government official who at the same time has stood by her commitment to progressive policies. “She knows how the system works, but that has not compromised her ideals,” he said.
Despite its support for progressive policies, the RWDSU historically has not been allied with the most left-wing figures in the Democratic Party.
The union, which is especially influential in New York, pulled out of the state’s Working Families Party in April 2018 over the group’s decision to endorse actor Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial race against the incumbent, Democrat Andrew Cuomo (who went on to win reelection). The union also endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008 and 2016.
Turner, a staunch ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former president of Our Revolution, the group that emerged from his 2016 campaign, is a national progressive icon. She has already wrapped up the support of leading left-wing members of Congress, such as Sanders and Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and raised more than $1 million in the first few weeks of her House race.
But to win a special House election in a majority-non-white district that includes eastern Cleveland, its affluent suburbs and part of Akron, Turner likely also needs mainstream Democratic validators.
Thanks in part to her years in state government, Turner has made strides in that direction. In late February, she won the endorsement of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which endorsed Biden early on in the 2020 presidential primary.
Turner is among seven Democrats so far vying for Fudge’s seat in the heavily Democratic district. A primary is expected to be scheduled for May, with the general election to follow a few months later.
Turner’s most formidable rival in the race is Shontel Brown, a Cuyahoga County councilwoman and chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Party.
Brown, who is more moderate than Turner, has the support of much of Cleveland’s Democratic establishment, as well as a number of key national figures. These include Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, 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.