WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton picked up an early if not surprising endorsement on Saturday from one of the country's largest labor unions: the American Federation of Teachers.
The executive council of the 1.6-million member AFT voted "overwhelmingly" in favor of backing the early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, according to an announcement from the union. It marks the first endorsement from a major national labor union during the 2016 presidential campaign.
"Hillary Clinton is a tested leader who shares our values, is supported by our members, and is prepared for a tough fight on behalf of students, families and communities," Randi Weingarten, the union's president, said in the statement.
Weingarten and Clinton have been personal friends for years and the union threw its weight behind the Democrat during her 2008 campaign as well. In the resolution declaring its endorsement, the AFT said it polled its members twice and held two town halls before deciding which primary candidate to back.
The endorsement comes at a helpful time for Clinton as Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders surges in polls. Still considered a long shot, Sanders has proven to be an attractive candidate to progressives in the labor movement, particularly those turned off by Clinton's unclear positions on President Barack Obama's looming trade deal. A number of local labor federations are flirting with the idea of getting behind Sanders, Politico reported.
Clinton joined one of the AFT's executive council meetings last month, where she said teachers had become unfair targets of political attacks, according to the union.
"It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society's problems," Clinton had said. "Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too."
Clinton plans to meet with officials from the AFL-CIO labor federation later this month to address their concerns with her unclear stance on the White House's trade pact, Reuters reported Thursday. The AFL-CIO vehemently opposed giving the president so-called fast-track authorization for the deal, though Congress ultimately granted it in June.