Some black leaders within the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are complaining that under Gerald McEntee, Hillary Clinton's strongest and most outspoken backer in the labor movement, union money is being spent to build white turnout for the New York Senator in what has become a racially polarized competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a number of sources.
The conflict is emblematic of the intensifying hostility within Democratic ranks as the nomination fight slowly moves towards closure. The fact that the two leading candidates are a black and a woman has produced internal and external disputes involving civil rights, women's rights and a variety of other groups and leaders in the liberal wing of the party.
William Lucy, International Secretary-Treasurer of the 1.4 million member AFSCME, raised the issue of the union's spending on behalf of Clinton at a recent board meeting.
Lucy, according to sources, pointed out that Clinton is winning whites, while Obama is carrying blacks by 9-to-1 margins, forcing her supporters, including AFSCME, to concentrate on building white turnout.
In addition to his number two post at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Lucy is founder and president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
Tensions between McEntee and Lucy have been simmering outside of public view for years, and the Clinton-Obama contest has forced these tensions closer to the surface. While AFSCME under McEntee's direction endorsed Clinton, Lucy has personally given Obama $2,300.
A spokesman for AFSCME, who asked not to be identified, said only: "We don't comment on board discussions."
Sources familiar with the internal dispute say McEntee, who has a temper and does not tolerate disagreement well, has voiced outrage over dissent within his union. His anger has been directed not only at Lucy, but also at the Oregon State AFSCME, which defied McEntee and endorsed Obama. Oregon holds a primary this coming Tuesday, May 20.
Attempts to reach Lucy by phone and email were unsuccessful.
Nationwide, of the 16.9 million workers who are members of all the nation's trade unions, 2.4 million are black, 1.9 million Hispanic, and 657,000 Asian American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. AFSCME, according to a spokesman, is 15 percent black.
McEntee's political stature rose dramatically in 1992 when he was one of the few labor leaders to back Bill Clinton. After Clinton won, McEntee enjoyed access to the White House and his calls to the president were returned. After McEntee's ally, John Sweeney, was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 1995, McEntee became chairman of the labor federation's political committee.
McEntee and many other union officials took a hit in 2004 after they endorsed Howard Dean and had to watch his candidacy implode during the Iowa caucuses.
In the current election, McEntee has pulled out the stops for Clinton. So far, according to the Federal Election Commission, AFSCME has spent $415,800 on television and radio advertising, and has invested much more, $2.45 million, in a group called the American Leadership Project, which has run ads for Clinton and against Obama.
Clinton met earlier this week with McEntee and other labor leaders to discuss her prospects and choices in the closing weeks of the campaign. McEntee pledged to stick with her until the end.