|Battleground Races '10||
For Los Angeles Local 11 organizer Kevin Norton, the stakes of this year's gubernatorial contest between former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and Attorney General Jerry Brown couldn't be higher.
"This is the kind of election where the wrong results could hurt us for a very long time and set back the labor movement by decades," Norton said.
Whitman, a former Wall Street executive who sat on the board of Goldman Sachs, is running on one of the most anti-worker platforms in California political history, Norton says.
"She has no qualms about attacking the labor movement and making clear that if she was elected, we would be her first target," Norton said.
The Republican candidate has allied herself with the open-shop Associated Builders and Contractors, promising to outlaw project labor agreements on state-funded construction projects.
ABC has already led several efforts to ban PLAs at the municipal level and is banking on Whitman to do away with them statewide.
And although California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, she supports expanding the number of H1B visas—used by temporary immigrant workers to fill skilled jobs—from 60,000 to 500,000.
And she opposes programs that could create good-paying jobs for Californians, including a voter-approved plan to build the state's first high-speed rail system.
Whitman has already spent more than $100 million on the race so far, tapping her own deep pockets and those of her Wall Street allies, giving her an 86-to-1 financial advantage over Brown.
"She is just trying to buy this election. It's obscene how much cash she is dumping to flood the airwaves," Dublin Local 595 Political Coordinator Greg Bonato said.
But working families have a strong advocate in former Gov. Jerry Brown, says Local 11 Business Manager Marvin Kropke.
"Brown has a 40-year record of supporting working families, from expanding collective bargaining rights for California workers back in the 1970s to his recent efforts to crack down on contractors who abuse their workers as our attorney general," Kropke said.
Union members are also working to help re-elect Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is running against Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive who is widely reviled by former employees for nearly running the company into the ground, costing the jobs of 33,000 workers.
The IBEW is also focusing its energy on more than a half dozen House races, supporting candidates like Reps. Jerry McNerney and Loretta Sanchez, both of whom have established strong pro-worker voting records.
While the labor movement can't compete financially with Whitman and Fiorina, it does have the power of a mobilized and active membership, says Norton.
The IBEW sponsored a campaign school in August, bringing together more than 60 grassroots leaders from throughout the state and is working with other building trades to reach more than 17,000 construction workers at the worksite and in their homes.
Local 595's Bonato, who has helped pro-worker legislators win office in the traditionally nonunion Tri-Valley region, outside the Bay Area, says he has seen the direct benefits of helping labor's allies get elected.
When we have pro-worker candidates in office, it makes a difference in terms of jobs and the whole economic environment for our membership," Bonato said. "When our endorsed candidates win, it translates into work for our members, simple as that. And that is what this election is all about—good jobs."
Mike Clemmons, a member of Joliet, Ill., Local 176, will never forget Alexi Giannoulias coming to the aid of 600 union workers at the Hartmarx clothing factory outside of Chicago.
With Wells Fargo threatening to withdraw credit from the famous producer of men's suits—which would effectively shut the business down—Giannoulias, the state's treasurer, who is running for the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama, went into action and told the bank that it would lose all state business if it moved against Hartmarx. One year later, the factory, now under new management, is thriving. Clemmons, a member of Local 176's voluntary political action committee says:
"Alexi is for middle-income individuals. He wants to give tax breaks to people who will put money back into the economy, unlike his opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk, who is in lock-step with the old Bush trickle-down economics."
"You can't trust Kirk," says Clemmons, a journeyman inside wireman since 1997, a member of the local's volunteer political action committee and a Democratic central committeeman in Grundy County, 60 miles southwest of Chicago. As an example of Kirk's doubletalk, Clemmons cites Kirk's promise in early August to support the Education, Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act in the House, an emergency bill that saved at least 5,700 teaching jobs in Illinois. A day after the announcement, Kirk voted against the bill.
Kirk has repeatedly voted to protect corporate tax loopholes that ship American jobs overseas. And he is solidly against reforming the practices on Wall Street that nearly tanked the U.S. economy. It's no mystery why. MarketWatch, part of the Wall Street Journal news group, called Kirk a "pig at the trough" for taking in over $826,000 in campaign contributions this cycle alone from the financial industry.
Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and former business manager of Decatur Local 146, applauds Giannoulias' proposal for an ambitious public works and infrastructure plan paid for by repealing big oil tax breaks and reinvesting in American jobs. Carrigan says:
"Alexi Giannoulias shows us he knows what it takes to get this country back on track. This election is about jobs and reinvestment in American workers. If we invest in the work force, that investment is returned in middle class buying power and the strength of sustainable employment."
The state's governor's race pits current Gov. Pat Quinn against Bill Brady, a contractor and millionaire nonunion builder. Clemmons says, "Pat Quinn is a reformer and leader in the fight for ethics in government. Bill Brady is an anti-union contractor who wants to reduce Illinois' minimum wage. What more is there to say?"
Rosetta Shin, business representative for Downers Grove Local 21, says Quinn has had to make some very difficult decisions to balance the state's budget and expects a tough race. IBEW activists, she says are working as hard as they can for Quinn.
While Quinn focuses his campaign on big population centers in Cook County, surrounding Chicago, Rockford Local 364 is helping build the turnout downstate. Business Manager Darrin Golden, who also serves as secretary-treasurer of the Northwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, isn't stopping at the governor's race. His local is mobilizing to support one of their own for a seat in the Illinois House, going door-to-door and walking in parades to elect Ray Pendzinski, who currently serves as an alderman in Belvedere. Says Golden,"I've always believed that the best people to represent organized labor in Springfield are our own members."
In Danville, Jim Bailey, business manager of Local 538 and secretary-treasurer of the building and construction trades council, is supporting Michael Puhr for a vacant state house seat formerly held by a popular Republican. "Democrats have held the governorship and leadership of both chambers of the Illinois legislature for eight years," says Bailey. "With the anti-incumbent sentiment brewing," he says, "We need to get out and vote for the people who have been with us."
Gregg Ogden, a 17-year member of Marietta Local 972, has worked only seven weeks out of the last 20 months. Despite the hard times, Ogden sees signs that Ohio is beginning to turn the corner, thanks to some of the policies of the Obama administration and leaders in Congress.
Ogden says that he is supporting Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher for U.S. Senate because he doesn't want to see this progress sideswiped by a return to measures promoted by Republican nominee Rob Portman. As the Bush administration's trade representative, Portman, who also represented a district in Ohio in Congress, supported billions of dollars in tax breaks and other measures that helped send 100,000 Ohio jobs overseas.
Ogden says, "I don't see why anyone who earns a paycheck could go out and vote for Portman."
Drawing the contrast between candidates, Fisher says, "If Ohioans want to see the jobs that Congressman Portman has created after spending 20 years in Washington, they have to go to China, India and Mexico."
Choices for IBEW members in November couldn't be clearer than in Ohio. Gov. Ted Strickland, elected four years ago with strong labor support, began his term by appointing Fisher as head of economic development. They both won national recognition for attracting employers to Ohio. A June report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Ohio is fourth among states in the number of workers employed in green energy manufacturing and development.
Strickland's opponent is John Kasich, a former U.S. representative and a supporter of Bush administration economic policies who favors the partial privatization of Social Security.
In 2001, Kasich became managing director of the Columbus investment office of Lehman Brothers, the now-bankrupt Wall Street firm that nearly brought the U.S. economy to a collapse. Before bankruptcy, he pressured Ohio to invest $430 million in state pension funds in Lehman Brothers. Kasich, who was paid nearly $600,000 in 2008, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the finance and securities industries and also money from anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors.
Mitch Lewis, a 31-year member of Portsmouth Local 575 has been out of work since September and has signed books in seven local unions. Lewis, who worked hard on Strickland's last campaign alongside his wife, Nora, understands how members are frustrated by the political process and the lack of work. But he asks them to consider what kind of economy and policies both Strickland and President Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush, advisors like Rob Portman and partisans like John Kasich.
Lewis has already seen the effects of redistricting under previous Republican governors. "They cut up southeastern Ohio like a piece of pie," says Lewis. He is concerned that if members vote for Kasich as a protest against unemployment in Ohio, they will only hand him a knife to make sure that the next redistricting—a result of this year's U.S. Census—will give the edge to even more anti-labor legislators in coming elections.
Lynda Wenzel, an 18-year member, a registrar and member of the examining board of Mansfield Local 688, says: "This year's Ohio election is a choice between Wall Street values and Main Street values."
Wenzel said Strickland, a steelworker's son from rural Ohio, has been a champion of working families throughout his career. As a measure of Strickland's character, she says, the governor has refused to accept state health benefits, paying for himself and his wife until his fellow citizens enjoy the same coverage that the state offers to him.
Boasting solid Senate records of supporting project labor agreements, the Employee Free Choice Act and prevailing wage laws, the future is looking bright for IBEW-endorsed candidates Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Labor leaders in New York say both lawmakers—who have enjoyed leads in the polls—are on the right side of the issues working families care about.
Third District International Representative Larry Davis coordinates the IBEW mobilization effort across the Empire State. The Geneva Local 840 member said re-electing Schumer and Gillibrand would be good news to a state where more than a quarter of residents have union dues receipts in their pockets.
"We're optimistic that Chuck and Kirsten will win," Davis said. "Sen. Schumer has been a friend of labor for years. Gillibrand is with us on many issues like stopping misclassification of workers, so we're working to get the membership pumped up for a high turnout. But it's not a lock, and we need to put our efforts behind them to make this happen.
"Their popularity frees us up to focus extra energy on some House races where our candidates are going to need strong IBEW support," Davis said.
With 29 contests statewide, IBEW activists are mobilizing members to get out the vote for candidates like Rep. Scott Murphy, whose pro-labor voting record has made him a friend of workers in the state's 20th District.
"Scott's an example of the kind of leader this country needs right now," said Albany Local 236 Business Manager Don Rahm. "He's a successful small businessman, but he's stood up to the Chamber of Commerce on their anti-Employee Free Choice Act campaign. We did walks with him when he first got elected, and we'll be side-by-side this year as well."
Rahm and Local 236 registrar Mark Lajeunesse have been hitting the pavement and knocking on doors for Murphy, who represents residents in the Delaware County area. They are also working to get out the vote for candidates Paul Tonko—of the Albany area's 21st District—and Rep. Bill Owens, legislator for Northern New York's 23rd District.
During his decades in the New York State Assembly, Tonko has supported unions in his role on the Committee on Education and Labor. Owens champions passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and supports PLAs.
"Paul Tonko has been strong for labor in the state assembly, and Owens has sided with us on important issues," Rahm said. "These are the guys on the ballot who are going to continue to advocate for our membership."
Rochester-area candidates like Rep. Dan Maffei—representing the 25th District—and Afghan War veteran Matthew Zeller in the 29th District are receiving strong IBEW backing. Rochester Local 86 Business Manager David Young said union members can count on the candidates to deliver for working families if voters send them to Washington:
"Dan Maffei has been a good friend of labor throughout his history," Young said. "He's honest, and when I've needed help for our members, he's been there. He supportive and up-front about passing the Employee Free Choice Act and supports the Merkley Amendment.
"It looks like Mr. Zeller will have a bright future. He not only deserves accolades for his service to our country, but he pledges service to the working men and women in the 29th District. Matthew has watched job after job disappear from his home region, and he's understands the plight many are facing. He supports the Employee Free Choice Act and has been very receptive to our ideas about fair trade and growing union jobs."
Voters will also go to the polls to decide the state's next governor. Popular candidate and State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo boasts a comfortable lead against opponent Carl Paladino, who has pledged to freeze wages of state, municipal and school employees in an effort to balance the state's budget, and who is sharply critical of public service labor unions.
Young said that even in the wake of job loss and negative campaigning by opponents, this election season is a crucial time to support labor-friendly candidates.
"We're doing our best to communicate with members at every opportunity that these candidates need our votes to help push America forward," he said. "If we can't mobilize, then we have the potential to go backwards and make the jobs picture even worse. I'm happy to say that we have such a great, intelligent, motivated membership—I think they'll keep the momentum to carry us through to November."
Paul Mullen knows it's nice to be on a first-name basis with his congressman. That's why when the Chester, Pa., Local 654 business manager talks about Rep. Joe Sestak, Mullen speaks of the lawmaker like a solid friend.
"With Joe, the communication lines are wide open," Mullen said. "He's great about returning calls and e-mails, he invites us to attend many of his events and he's out front about his advocacy for labor. A lot of politicians say they'll support you when they run, then they turn their backs on you. Joe's the opposite. He stands tall with the IBEW.
"Members here—they know Joe. He's been to the hall several times and he's toured our training facility. He's definitely one of us."
Now in a tight Senate race to represent the Keystone State, Sestak has built a strong following among working families and union members. He is an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. He is against extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but supports tax breaks for the middle class. Sestak also worked with the Department of Labor in creating the Labor Advisory Committee—which counts IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill as a member—to focus on challenges working families experience.
Sestak faces businessman Pat Toomey in the November race. Toomey's first Senate run in 2004 against former Sen. Arlen Specter was aided in part by $2 million from the Club for Growth, a group that supports tax cuts for the wealthy and the privatization of Social Security. After Toomey lost by a slim margin, he became the club's president.
Toomey opposed the 2009 stimulus, which reversed job loss in a state with 9 percent unemployment. He supports eliminating corporate taxes altogether and boasts a 90 percent approval rating by the United States Chamber of Commerce—a group that opposes workers' rights to organize.
Third District International Representative and Johnstown Local 459 member Mike Welsh is the state coordinator for the IBEW's political mobilization in Pennsylvania. He said Sestak is the clear choice for members.
"The difference between Joe Sestak and Toomey is night and day," Welsh said. "Do you want another pro-Wall Street guy who doesn't care about workers, or do you want a guy who voted for labor 94 percent of the time? It's no contest."
The IBEW is also endorsing Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato for governor. When the lawmaker met with union volunteers in September at the Erie Local 56 hall for his flagship labor walk, he noted a crisp campaign poster on the wall reading "Vote your job! Oronato for Governor," which prompted him to tell activists: "It is crystal clear that we are on the same page. The work you are doing here and in cities all over Pennsylvania is about jobs and electing leaders who will make jobs job No. 1 in Harrisburg and Washington."
Strongly endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Oronato's walk was the first big state push by the labor federation in the run-up to November.
"Based on previous campaigns, the labor movement in Pennsylvania anticipates more than 6,000 local union volunteers from all across Pennsylvania will be working in education and mobilization activities through Election Day," Frank Snyder, the state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said.
That's good news for the 11 hotly contested House races the IBEW is mobilizing for. In the 8th Congressional District, Trenton, N.J., Local 269 Business Manager Steve Aldrich is working to get out the vote for Rep. Patrick Murphy—a former high-ranking Army officer and the son of union members. Aldrich's local hall is just east of the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, but his jurisdiction reaches into Murphy's district.
"As a former paratrooper, Patrick knows what it means to have courage," Aldrich said. "He stands up for us and is proudly at the forefront of labor's issues. He's gone to bat to make sure prevailing wages are attached to any projects with federal dollars, and he's helped put more than a hundred of our members on jobs. Patrick is truly a champion for working families."
Another key race is in the northwestern Third District, where incumbent Kathy Dahlkemper is running against businessman Mike Kelly, who has been endorsed by a group led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that opposes public sector unions. Dahlkemper, a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, "stood with us nearly the whole time she's been in office," said Erie Local 56 Business Manager Matt McLaughlin.
"We've seen a spike of activity and enthusiasm with her in office, and we want that to continue," McLaughlin said.
Pennsylvania is one of the more union-dense states in the country—about 15 percent of residents have dues receipts in their wallets. Welsh, the union's state coordinator, said that makes the IBEW's mobilization a matter of urgency.
"We've got to elect Joe Sestak and pro-labor representatives to keep the momentum that we got in 2008, otherwise we could slip backwards," he said. "We can't afford to sit this one out."