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October 2014

Democracy in an Age of Cynicism
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A special message about the upcoming election
from President Ed Hill

The more people who vote, the better democracies work. Countries, unions and workplaces respond best when the people they serve are active and involved.

But nearly every election, fewer people vote. Is it any wonder that government doesn't seem to look out for working people? They are disappearing from the voting booth. It's become a vicious self-reinforcing downward spiral. Lower participation leads to worse laws, leading to disgust with government and fewer people voting.

And it is no accident. As election 2014 approaches, we are facing a frighteningly effective campaign funded by a few, very powerful people and the only purpose I can see is to keep citizens at home Nov. 4.

What other purpose could the endless parade of ads serve? Does it inform us? Is anyone persuaded by the endless negativity? Because of changes to our country's laws, the wealthy few can spend unprecedented sums on elections and it is becoming obvious that this money is not trying to move voters to one side or the other but to simply move them out of the way.

Why else would so little attention be spent on the issues most important to us, including a near silence about Social Security and Medicare? That's not to say that important issues aren't being decided by the election. Far from it. We have a fine example in Kansas, where a Republican governor purged his own party of moderates and unleashed the full menu of pro-corporate, anti-worker austerity laws that as conservatives have promised for decades, leads to the economic promised land. The result? So many tax cuts that the state is broke (see related story).

But the avalanche of money buries it all. It can make you want to throw up your hands and walk away. Every election, tens of thousands of union members do, giving up their most valuable right as citizens, the right to vote, and they give it up for nothing.

No one is going to tell you how to vote, but on these pages we aim to lay out the reasons why you should. This is about secret networks and backroom deals hashed out and paid for by the enemies of working people. It's the very antithesis of democracy, which should be of the people, for the people, by the people. This election is not about a grassroots debate over the fate of the country. It's a hijacking of democracy, a hostile takeover by the powerful.

The working men and women of this country cannot match their dollars, but we don't have to. All that money is wasted if all of us simply vote.


Edwin D. Hill
International President

At the Races:
New Hampshire

Ill. Candidate Channels Reagan's Union Busting

When President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, it cast a chilling effect on the movement that reverberated years down the line.

It also won approval from Bruce Rauner, an Illinois multimillionaire who is running a largely self-funded campaign to be the next governor in a state with union density of more than 16 percent.

"We may have to go through rough times," Rauner told attendees of a March dinner meeting of the Tazewell County Republicans. "We may have to do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers. Sort of have to do a do-over and shut things down for a little while."

Rauner is trying to unseat Gov. Pat Quinn, a proven friend of labor. "Thanks to Gov. Quinn, we have more project labor agreements in Illinois than all other states combined," said Chicago Local 134 Business Manager Terry Allen.

Quinn passed the largest capital infrastructure bill in state history to fix roads, schools and bridges. According to statistics compiled by the state AFL-CIO, Illinois' economic growth is the highest in the Midwest, adding 242,000 private sector jobs under Quinn since his election in 2010.

Watch Rauner's union-busting statements:

Deep Pockets vs. Working Families in Alaska Senate Race

Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547 activists are mobilizing to help send labor-friendly Sen. Mark Begich back to Washington. His challenger, Dan Sullivan, has received support from American Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce — organizations which support so-called right-to-work laws and the rollback of union gains at the bargaining table.

"With Begich, people feel like they have a fair deal," said Local 1547 Communications Director Melinda Taylor. "When he was mayor of Anchorage, he focused on construction projects and building up the city. As a senator, he's carried that same philosophy forward for the rest of the state."

Begich supported legislation that would grant collective bargaining rights to public safety officers, and he co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009, which — had it passed Congress — would have removed onerous restrictions on workers organizing for better wages and benefits.

"If members vote in their own economic interests, we should do well," Taylor said, adding that the local union always supports candidates based on who's best for good-paying jobs. "We've also supported many Republicans — you just have to find out who is on your side or not on your side, regardless of party."


Alaska Sen. Mark Begich has been a reliable ally to working families since taking office in 2009.

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

Kansas Elections Boiling Over

Kansas is situated dead-center of the continental U.S. But under the leadership of incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. senator, the state has veered politically to the far right.

Since his election in 2010, Brownback enacted an agenda to lower all taxes and "get government out of the way." Brownback promised those policies would create jobs and prosperity for working families.

Brownback's experiment has been a dismal failure for all workers. Job creation in Kansas lags behind neighboring states, as the state budget has been drained of essential funds like those for transportation projects. The state's bond rating has been downgraded by Moody's and two other investor services even as corporate tax rates have been reduced. Some local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have decried Brownback's budget and tax cuts as hurting small businesses.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Pat Roberts is also at risk of losing his seat. No friend of working families, the 34-year congressional veteran has voted for the labor-endorsed position 13 percent of the time, according to the AFL-CIO scorecard.

IBEW Shipyard Workers Back Shaheen for Senate

For Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the contrast between the records of U.S. Senate candidates Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown should shout out loud enough to require the ear protection worn by workers at the Maine yard.

"Jeanne Shaheen has been a great friend to the shipyard and a supporter of rights of workers here and to all people across New Hampshire," says O'Connor.

Shaheen's opponent, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), who moved to New Hampshire after his re-election defeat by Elizabeth Warren in 2012, has reportedly collected over a quarter million dollars in profits as a board member of Kadant Inc., which outsourced American jobs to China and Mexico.

Brown praised the company's use of "low-cost manufacturing bases in China and Mexico" to increase its profits.

"It makes me sick to my stomach when I hear about people like Scott Brown who profit from companies that are sending American jobs overseas," says O'Connor.

Shaheen has fought military base closures that could have jeopardized the future of the Portsmouth yard, employing 5,000. She has won federal funding for infrastructure projects, helped restore unemployment benefits and improve job training for the state's workers and strongly supported small businesses.

In an e-mail supporting her colleague, Warren said, "There's no need to be personal, it's Scott Brown's voting record that stinks."

Union Members Take on Anti-Worker Governor

It wasn't long after taking office in 2011 that Maine Gov. Paul LePage made clear his disdain for working families in a very public move.

LePage removed a 36-foot-wide mural from the state's Department of Labor building that highlighted the history of Maine workers, from colonial-era apprentices to contemporary paper mill employees.

He also ordered conference rooms in the building — named after famous labor advocates like Cesar Chavez and Francis Perkins — to be renamed.

LePage's interior decorating moves were symbolic, but proved to be the first shots from an administration that has pushed policies punishing the middle class, while rewarding the top 1 percent with tax cuts.

From promoting right-to-work-for-less legislation to rejecting access to Medicaid for 70,000 working families, LePage has brought an extreme tea party agenda to Augusta that has alienated legislators and citizens on both sides of the aisle.

"Republicans and Democrats used to be able to come together and get things done," said IBEW Maine Political Coordinator Don Berry. "That is until LePage got here."

Berry, who also serves as president of the Maine AFL-CIO, says the labor movement is working to mobilize union members throughout the state to unseat LePage and elect Rep. Mike Michaud.

A former paper mill worker and lifelong union member, Michaud previously served as president of the state Senate.

"I have spent a lifetime fighting for higher wages, better benefits and working conditions," he told delegates to the Steelworkers convention in August. "And I'm willing to give up a safe seat in Congress to do that for the people of the state of Maine."

"The issue for us is jobs," Berry said. "And LePage is spending his time scapegoating welfare recipients because he hasn't done anything about good jobs."

Berry is referring to LePage's efforts to restrict aid to low-income Mainers.

The Portland Local 567 member says that numerous paper mills, once the lifeblood of Maine's economy, have shuttered since LePage took office, and the governor has done nothing about it.

But LePage's attacks aren't restricted to the poor. He has also denounced Social Security, Medicare and even unemployment insurance as government "welfare" and "wealth redistribution."

"If LePage wanted to get people off welfare, he'd support a living wage," said Berry.

The governor has received millions in dollars from out of state to run attack ads on Michaud. While Maine labor can't compete with that kind of money, Berry says that the power of grassroots union voters can turn the tide.

"They can run all the commercials they want, but voters still trust person-to-person contact more, and that's why we will be knocking on doors and making phone calls to union members and their families," he said.