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September 2014

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Vote Your Job — Vote Your Union

Midterm elections are too often ignored by many voters, turned off by the attack ads and extreme partisanship that makes Washington dysfunctional.

But for union members who care about their jobs and their rights on the job, every Election Day matters.

Four years ago, low voter turnout resulted in a wave of anti-worker governors and state legislatures along with a tea party-dominated Congress that never met an anti-union bill it didn't like.

Take Wisconsin. In 2008, voter turnout approached nearly 70 percent. In 2010, it was less than half. And that drop in turnout allowed Scott Walker to win.

The result: one of the most anti-union pieces of legislation in the country, stripping public workers of their right to collectively bargain, was rammed through the legislature within months of Walker taking office.

Similarly, in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder fooled many voters by his claim to be a moderate focused on job creation. But when he had the chance, he snuck through a right-to-work-for-less bill in a state that helped create the modern labor movement.

On the federal level, the Republican-led House of Representatives is led by its most extreme tea party wing, which pushed austerity for working families and more tax giveaways to the top 1 percent, while voting to abolish project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws, weaken worker protections and starve our country's industrial infrastructure.

Their only barrier to the worst of these bills has been the Democratic-led Senate.

Behind this group of incumbents, from Madison and Columbus to Capitol Hill, is an extremely well-funded network with a clear agenda. People like the billionaire Koch brothers want an America without unions, a country where Wall Street and major corporations call all the shots. They want a tax code based on failed trickle-down policies that profess to help working Americans by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest families in our nation. And when it comes to health and safety regulations, they want to return to the 19th century and take the government out of the job of making sure companies treat their employees fairly.

This November, key races across the country will decide control of the Senate and governor's mansions in Wisconsin, Maine, Ohio, Michigan and many other states.

We can't afford to sit this election out. In the pages of the Electrical Worker, on and on Facebook and Twitter, we will be reporting on some of the most important races and what IBEW members are doing to educate their friends and families on the issues.

We're not here to tell you who to vote for. But we do ask that you investigate the records, compare every candidate's platform and vote your job and your union.

Key Races


The Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity has already spent millions in secret donor cash this year on attack ads against labor-friendly candidates.

Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Nick Ares.

Wisconsin Locals Target Job-Killing Gov. Walker

Four years ago, The Electrical Worker reported on the good fortune of Jeannine Powell, an unemployed third-year apprentice member of Milwaukee Local 494 who had just been hired with 14 other journeymen and apprentices to retrofit an abandoned factory.

The factory's new owner, Talgo, a Spain-based producer of locomotive cars, was planning to supply rail cars to a planned Milwaukee-Madison high-speed passenger line that was to be built with $810 million in funds that former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and other regional leaders had secured from the Obama administration's federal stimulus.

One year later, Republican Scott Walker was elected governor and promptly shut down the rail project, saying it was a boondoggle that would "cost" the state too much money in the future.

Then, Talgo pulled out of Wisconsin, filing a claim for $66 million in losses. Hundreds of new jobs that could have put more workers like Powell back on the job died on the vine.

Dave Cieslewicz, a former mayor of Madison, explained Walker's abandonment of high-speed rail, saying, "Scott Walker found it politically useful to exploit hard feelings between rural and urban Wisconsin."

Walker has gained major national media attention for his successful efforts to undermine collective bargaining by the state's public employees. And he is often portrayed as a potential candidate for president.

But, back in Wisconsin, Walker's poor record on job creation — Wisconsin ranks 37th out of U.S. states — is under deeper scrutiny as he faces a tough election challenge from Democrat Mary Burke.

As Wisconsin's former secretary of commerce, Burke, herself a business leader, focused on attracting new businesses to the state and helped entrepreneurs and small companies grow. During her tenure under a previous governor the state's unemployment rate was under 5 percent, representing 57,000 more jobs than exist today.

"We will give Mary Burke any and all the help she needs," says Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager John Bzdawka.

"Memories are short," says Bzdawka. While some voters may have forgotten how Walker shut down high-speed rail, he says, fewer will forget that he promised to create 250,000 jobs. "He's only hit about half that number and it looks like many of the new jobs are low-paying," says Bzdawka, adding that Wisconsin's low national ranking on jobs is commonly discussed.

Polls show that even so-called "independent" voters in the state are already locking in for Burke or Walker.

However, Bzdawka, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State Electrical Workers Association, is hoping that recent defeats by tea party candidates in other states portend a Walker loss.

"I think we are seeing signals that people are sick of politicians like Walker who have an uncompromising approach to governing," he says.

Anti-Worker Koch Brothers Loom Large in
Mich. Senate Race

One of the biggest stories already shaping up in this year's election cycle is the influence of deep-pocketed, extremist organizations and their fight against everyday American workers.

In Michigan, organizations like the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity — which promotes right-to-work laws, ending collective bargaining and eliminating the minimum wage — has sewn itself into the fabric of a close U.S. Senate race between labor-friendly candidate Rep. Gary Peters and challenger Terri Lynn Land. The group has already spent millions this year on ads against Peters.

Detroit Local 58 recording secretary and registrar Jeannette Bradshaw said the attack ads stem from one fact: "Gary is pro-union, all the way," she said. "Whenever we have needed him on anything for IBEW members across Michigan, he's been there."

Peters was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 to serve the state's 14th district, which includes about 700,000 residents of eastern Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. In 2012, he voted for the use of project labor agreements on federal military construction projects. He currently has a 100-percent voting rating from the IBEW, along with a lifetime score of 95 percent from the AFL-CIO, according to Project Vote Smart.

Americans for Prosperity has funded anti-worker ads and lobbied lawmakers who supported ending collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio and beyond over the last three years. In Michigan, the group backed Gov. Rick Snyder's successful 2012 push to pass right-to-work legislation. AFP's executive director in the state said the group's goal was to "take the unions out at the knees."

As former Michigan secretary of state, Land held in 2004 that contributions to so-called issue ads in Michigan could be kept secret and are immune from the state's campaign finance act. The ruling was a response to a Michigan Chamber of Commerce request for legal assurance that the names of donors funding the group's issue ads would not be public record. Such ads are exactly the types run by groups like Americans for Prosperity and are usually crafted to discredit or damage a candidate.

The Huffington Post reported in June that Land, a Republican, received at least $4.6 million in secret outside spending from groups that do not disclose individual donors.

The biggest contributor? Americans for Prosperity — which has already spent more than $3 million to attack Peters on Land's behalf.

Bradshaw said Peters, a Democrat, can frequently be found at Labor Day parades and at pro-worker rallies alongside union members. "The crowd loves him," she said.


Senate hopeful Gary Peters attends a rally with fellow union supporters in Michigan.

The Race to Replace Labor Hero Tom Harkin

After 20 years in the Senate, one of the most eloquent advocates for the American labor movement, Tom Harkin, is retiring. In 2014, upon his induction into the Iowa AFL-CIO Hall of Fame, International President Edwin D. Hill presented Sen. Harkin an honorary union card.

"I was stunned when President Hill did that, but also proud, because it was recognition of what an incredible friend to labor he has been," said Bill Hanes, business manager of Cedar Rapids Local 405. "Losing Tom Harkin is major for the labor movement, no question."

The candidates vying to replace Harkin are from opposite sides of the state and opposite ends of the political spectrum. Four-term congressman Bruce Braley is a centrist Democrat from the industrial Northeast Iowa town of Waterloo who named Harkin as his mentor. Freshman state Sen. Joni Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa state guard from Red Oak, a western Iowa farm town, who won a five-way Republican race for the nomination.

Hanes said that ideas have always been more important for his local than party affiliation and that on the issues, the differences between the candidates are clear. Braley has been a vocal supporter of project labor agreements and protecting all workers' right to collectively bargain. While Ernst has not taken a position on PLAs, she has called for the privatization of Social Security, an end to wind and solar generation tax credits and the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

"We had our first experience with project labor agreements because of a Republican mayor, so we are open to finding friends wherever they are," Hanes said.

But it is precisely on the bread-and-butter issues where Ernst falls short in Hanes' view.

"She called replacing the income tax with a national retail sales tax a 'great way to go' even though it would slam working families and let the wealthiest Americans pay next to nothing," Hanes said.

More than 65 percent of Iowans voted for Obama in 2012, and even though the state is evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and independents, it has a history of splitting its senators between the two parties.

"Anyone who tells you this isn't a 2-percent race doesn't know what is going on in Iowa," Hanes said.

The difference has been a torrent of money from national political action committees that can spend enormous sums of money on elections without disclosing their donors. Ernst was the only candidate in the Republican primary to get money from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative PAC that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide since 2008 on ads and candidates supporting drastic reductions in corporate and income taxes, minimal regulation of industry and an end to social safety net programs like Medicare.

Hanes said the flood of money from outside Iowa and the low turnout of off-year elections guarantee a close race.

"Every vote will count on Election Day," Hanes said. "Bruce is the one true friend of working families in this election, so this needs to be taken very seriously."


IBEW activists in Iowa are working to get out the vote for labor-friendly candidate Bruce Braley.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user greghauenstein.

Kentucky Locals All in to Send Mitch McConnell Packing

In a normal political climate, the contest for U.S. Senate in Kentucky might be straightforward for Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's attorney general.

Incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate's minority leader, has not only led Republicans to oppose federal help to put unemployed workers back on the job and reconstruct some of his state's dilapidated bridges and roads. He has proposed repealing the Davis-Bacon Act requiring contractors receiving public funds to pay the local prevailing wage.

Because of these and other obstructionist moves, McConnell's popularity in the state has taken a dive.

But the Kentucky Senate race is not taking place in a normal political climate. Wealthy corporations are pouring unprecedented amounts of cash into McConnell's and other Senate races in an effort to win back the chamber in November. To win her race, Grimes — who has a strong record of supporting workers and challenging McConnell's support for right-to-work and other anti-worker legislation — will need to stay competitive, not just in money, but in boots on the ground.

"If working families show up in big numbers to vote, Alison can't lose," says Louisville Local 369 Business Manager Charley Essex. With that goal in mind, Essex and other IBEW leaders and activists are teaming up with labor and community allies to widen Grimes' base of support.

On Aug. 2, members of Louisville Locals 369 and 2100 and Paducah Local 816 joined dozens of other members of the building trades to support Grimes at the legendary yearly picnic held in the town of Fancy Farm in the state's western sector.

Members enthusiastically came out to Fancy Farm, says Local 816 Business Manager Jimmy Evans, united in the belief that, "This is our best chance to get McConnell out of the Senate." Mitch McConnell, he says, "has done nothing for the working people of Western Kentucky." And Grimes has expressed strong support for the state's coal and energy industry, publically criticizing the Obama administration's timetable for shutting down coal-fired power plants.

Local 369 is sponsoring phone banks every week until Election Day and registering members and apprentices to vote. "I know how important it is to register new voters," says Essex. "I was first encouraged to register to vote as an apprentice."


IBEW members showed up in force at a legendary yearly picnic to support Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's attorney general, in her campaign against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Ohio Locals Aim to Defeat Anti-Labor Gov. Kasich

Two years ago, IBEW locals in Ohio played a critical role in winning a ballot initiative to defeat legislation supported by Republican Gov. John Kasich which would have taken away the right of firefighters, teachers and other public workers to collectively bargain.

IBEW members and others collected 1.3 million signatures on petitions to repeal the legislation. They won the referendum, gaining national attention.

As Kasich campaigns for re-election, union members are mobilizing to win another victory for working families by supporting his opponent, Ed FitzGerald.

A former FBI agent, prosecutor, mayor and Cuyahoga County executive, FitzGerald has a strong record of competent, ethical leadership and working with, not against, organized labor.

"Kasich has attacked workers in the public and private sector," says Hamilton Local 648 Business Manager Jeff McGuffey. "We're going to educate our membership about how he has hurt our jobs."

The governor, says McGuffey, changed bidding procedures on public projects from multiple prime bidding to single prime bidding, which makes it harder for individual signatory contractors to compete. In the last three years, Local 648 has lost 50,000 man-hours of work at Miami University that would likely have been won by union contractors under the prior system.

"The building trades have lost ground on prevailing wages under Kasich," says Cleveland Local 38 Business Manager Dennis Meaney. Kasich raised thresholds for application of prevailing wage regulations despite lobbying efforts by the trades to limit the increases.

Local 38 members are doing precinct walks and literature drops for Fitzgerald, says Meaney, who says he's inspired by poll numbers that show the race is close.

"We've given the AFL-CIO space in our local hall to phone bank for FitzGerald," says Dayton Local 82 Assistant Business Manager John Mueller. The federation used the hall previously to help defeat the collective bargaining bill. The local is planning mailings in support of FitzGerald and a mobilization for a Labor Day parade in a neighboring town.

While Kasich backed off on his efforts to undermine collective bargaining after his referendum defeat, Mueller is concerned that, with a Republican majority in both houses of the state legislature, a Kasich victory in November could bring back similar efforts, including the passage of a right-to-work law in the state.