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October 2021

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2021 Elections: Pro‑Worker State Leaders,
Lawmakers on Va., N.J. Ballots

Two years of historic progress for workers' rights and the building trades in Virginia hangs in the balance this fall as voters go to the polls to decide between proven labor-friendly leaders and a hostile slate of opposing candidates.

"I feel like we've gone from the bottom 10 states for workers to the top 10 in just two legislative sessions," said Jeff Rowe, business manager of Newport News Local 1340 and president of the IBEW's Virginia State Association.

Rowe pointed to a long-sought prevailing wage law that went into effect July 1, the repeal of a ban on project labor agreements, and new collective bargaining rights for public employees, among a wealth of other advances for workers and working families since Virginia's 2019 statehouse elections.

"It can't be overstated," he said. "The progress has been monumental. But as quick as those laws were passed and signed, they can be taken away just as quickly."

Early in-person and mail voting are already underway for the Nov. 2 election, with races for governor, top state officials and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates being decided.

Polls open Oct. 23 in New Jersey, where a similar ballot includes all 80 Assembly seats and all 40 in the Senate.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states that hold legislative elections in the odd-numbered years between federal elections. This year, they are also the only states with governors' races.

Both are also blue trifectas, with pro-worker governors and like-minded majorities in the House and Senate.

The margins are nearly supermajorities in New Jersey, where incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy — who has racked up a long list of accomplishments for workers in his first term — continued to hold a sizable polling lead over his challenger in early September.

The situation is more precarious in Virginia. The House Democrats who won prevailing wage and other reforms hold the chamber by just five seats.

"Every vote counts at the polls, and every vote counts in [state capital] Richmond, because there are a lot of pieces of pro-worker legislation that only make it out of committee by one vote," Rowe said.

Through get-out-the-vote activities, mailers, and phone banks, Local 1340 and others in Virginia are determined to hold onto every seat — if not gain some — and to keep the executive branch worker-friendly by electing former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Virginia governors can't run for consecutive terms, but they can run again. McAuliffe served from 2013 to 2017, with bipartisan approval ratings topping 60%. Polling has been tighter in his current race against private-equity billionaire Glenn Youngkin.

The Virginia State Association, comprising 19 IBEW locals, as well as fellow unions and the state AFL-CIO have strongly endorsed McAuliffe.

"Youngkin has a long record in business of being 100 percent anti-worker, anti-union, anti-labor," Rowe said. "We invited him for an interview with the association, and his campaign refused to respond. They didn't even acknowledge us."

McAuliffe is also a wealthy businessman and had his skeptics during his 2013 run.

"I think that everybody was a little bit apprehensive the first time he ran, worried about him being a corporate Democrat," Rowe said. "And I think that everybody was pleasantly surprised at the job that he did."

On the campaign trail this time around, McAuliffe is more outspoken about protecting workers and has impressed the association in several virtual meetings.

"Terry McAuliffe has made a pledge to be the best governor for labor in the history of Virginia, and I think Youngkin could be the worst ever," Rowe said. "The contrast couldn't be more clear."

New Jersey's Murphy, another businessman-turned-governor, began signing pro-worker executive orders the day he took office in 2018, putting an end to eight years of animus from predecessor Chris Christie.

Together, Murphy and the strong Democratic majorities in the statehouse have a laudable track record on behalf of workers — from tax relief to a minimum wage hike, access to sick leave, and heavy investments in job training that include opening an Office of Apprenticeships in the state labor department.

Murphy also has solidly supported the IBEW's legislative priorities for jobs, safety standards and prevailing-wage protections, said International Representative Wyatt Earp, who also serves as political coordinator for New Jersey and for the IBEW's Third District.

There's no better path to progress in any state than by electing union members to office, and New Jersey runs one of the country's most aggressive programs to get them there.

The Legislature's pro-union caucus includes four IBEW members, all of whom are running for re-election.

In the Assembly, they are Joseph Egan, New Brunswick Local 456 business manager; Wayne DeAngelo, president and assistant business manager at Trenton Local 269; and Eric Houghtaling, a member of Asbury Park Local 400. Vin Gopal, also from Local 400, serves in the Senate.

The ballot also features two Patterson Local 102 members, Joe Lukac and Christian Barranco, who are challenging incumbents in their Assembly districts.

While voting rights are perilously under assault in many red states, New Jersey and Virginia have been expanding access and making it easier than ever to vote.

In the spring, Murphy signed a law that requires counties to hold nine days of early, in-person voting through the Sunday before Election Day. Earp is hopeful it will boost voter turnout.

"It depends on the county size, but most voters should be no more than a 15-minute drive to an early-voting location," he said.

In Virginia, early voting began Sept. 17 and expands to more in-person locations later this month, among other welcome reforms that went into effect this year.

"You can't necessarily convince someone to vote a certain way," Rowe said. "It comes down to turnout. The party that gets people more excited to vote is probably going to be the party that wins."

While no candidate ever aligns perfectly with each voter's priorities, Earp said that's no excuse for not casting a ballot.

"It's not a 100% game," he said. "But we can support people who have a history of voting for our union's interests, and it's all on the table on Nov. 2."



With strong union support, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, top, and incumbent N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy are running for second terms in their states' traditional off-year elections Nov. 2. Early voting is underway in Virginia and begins Oct. 23 in New Jersey.

Biden Appoints Pro‑Worker Officials to
Federal Labor Board

Federal employees had a difficult four years under the previous administration, from thinly veiled union-busting to unilateral removal of countless workplace protections. But things have been changing quickly under President Joe Biden. Continuing a trend of filling labor-related posts with experienced pro-worker nominees, Biden selected Susan Tsui Grundmann and Kurt Rumsfeld for seats on the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

"Federal workers can breathe a little easier now that President Biden has not only filled these vacancies, but has done so with experienced individuals who understand the importance of the work that our federal workforce does," said Government Employees Director Paul O'Connor.

The FLRA oversees disputes between federal agencies and their employee unions. If confirmed by the Senate, Grundmann would serve as a member of the board and Rumsfeld would serve as general counsel.

Grundmann currently serves as the executive director and chief operating officer of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, where she oversees the administrative dispute resolution process and provides education to both employing offices and labor unions that represent employees in the legislative branch. Prior to that post, she was general counsel to the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Rumsfeld, who began his career with the Department of Labor, is currently the chief counsel to Ernie DuBester, chairman of the FLRA. Rumsfeld previously served as assistant general counsel for operations and legal policy for the FLRA's Office of General Counsel, where he assisted in managing regional operations.

"We are excited to see President Biden announce such qualified picks to help lead this important agency," said American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley in a statement. "Kurt Rumsfeld's previous work with the authority will ensure he can hit the ground running as he assumes the office of general counsel."

With Biden's picks confirmed, the FLRA could begin reversing the barrage of anti-union actions from the previous administration, including a 2020 rule allowing federal employees to opt out of union membership and paying dues at any time rather than during the annual window currently offered to them. There's also a mounting backlog of unresolved cases because of vacancies dating back to 2017.

"The new board definitely has its work cut out for them, but with their wealth of experience I'm confident they can start to turn things around and get the FLRA working for our members and other federal workers instead of at their expense," O'Connor said.

Biden's FLRA nominees are part of a larger trend of filling federal vacancies with pro-worker advocates. In August he announced his picks for the FLRA's Federal Service Impasses Panel. The FSIP acts as an arbiter on contract issues between unions and federal agencies. Under the previous administration, the panel consistently ruled in favor of anti-union labor practices based on then-President Donald Trump's 2018 executive orders restricting collective bargaining and making it easier to fire federal employees. Less than a month into his presidency, Biden called for the resignation of all 10 members of the FSIP.

Biden's list of appointees, who do not require Senate confirmation, include a number with strong labor bona fides. Martin Malin, who will serve as chair, previously served on the panel during the Obama administration. Another pick, Howard Friedman, is a former president of a chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union. Mark G. Pearce previously served as a member and chair of the NLRB, and Wynter P. Allen was an attorney for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

"During the previous administration, the FSIP was often hostile toward the role unions play in federal government operations and issued an overwhelming majority of opinions that favored management. The FSIP was in dire need of objective labor relations professionals and this new list of appointees meets that standard," NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.

In July, the Senate confirmed Jennifer Abruzzo as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Abruzzo comes from the Communication Workers of America and had earlier stints at the NLRB. The Senate also confirmed labor lawyers Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty to seats on the five-member board, giving it a pro-worker, Democratic majority.

"When functioning as intended by the statute, the FLRA and FSIP operate with the knowledge and understanding that labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest. The new FLRA and FSIP will uphold that foundational tenet," O'Connor said.


President Biden's picks to the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Federal Service Impasses Panel are part of a larger move to restore much-needed balance between management and federal workers' bargaining rights.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Prachatai