Expanding service workers union backs Obama

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 15, 2008 2:20pm EST

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks during a press conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin February 15, 2008. REUTERS/John Gress

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks during a press conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin February 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign got a major boost on Friday, winning the endorsement of the influential 1.9-million-member Service Employees International Union.

SEIU President Andy Stern said the union's executive board "overwhelmingly" decided to endorse Obama for president.

"It has now become clear the members of our union and the leaders of our union think that it is time to become part of an effort to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States," Stern said during a phone conference with reporters.

"We do think he has the experience and the vision we need in our next president," Stern said. He added that the labor group also had "enormous respect" for Obama's chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The SEIU, one of the fastest-growing labor organizations in North America, represents health care and other service industry workers. The endorsement will allow Obama to tap into the union's organizational resources and help him in his battle for the Democratic presidential nomination against Clinton going into the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio.

Stern said the union's work in Hispanic and other minority communities would be a big plus for Obama in helping turn out the vote for the Illinois senator.

Texas and Ohio are crucial for Clinton, a New York senator who would become the first woman U.S. president.

Obama, who also would make history as the first black U.S. president, hopes the momentum from a string of February primary victories will help him carry Texas and Ohio.

(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by David Alexander and Eric Walsh)

(donna.smith@reuters.com; 202-898-8391; Reuters Messaging: donna.smith.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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