Editor’s Note: The IBEW is reporting from the political conventions. Keep reading over the next few days for our on-the-ground perspective in Philadelphia.
When Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine accepts the vice presidential nomination of the Democratic Party on July 27 in Philadelphia, IBEW leaders say working families can rest assured they’ll have a friend in the former mayor and governor.
“Tim is a guy who is good to his word,” said Fourth District International Representative Neil Gray, who has worked closely with Kaine over the senator’s 20 years in elected office. “When he tells you something, you can take it to the bank.”
The open dialogue Kaine has always held with IBEW officials came up again and again in conversations with Gray, Richmond, Va., Local 666 Business Manager Jim Underwood and Fourth District Vice President Ken Cooper.
“Years ago, when Kaine was governor,” Cooper said, “the owners of a plant closing in Alexandria wanted a meeting with him. Tim wouldn’t take the meeting, wouldn’t say a word to them, until the IBEW was represented in the room. That’s the kind of leader he is. He brings both sides of an issue together, and whether he’s with you or not, he gives it to you straight.”
“With Tim Kaine, what you see is what you get,” said Underwood, who first worked with Kaine when he was mayor of Richmond from 1998 to 2001, and then when he was lieutenant governor and governor from 2002 to 2010. “He brought us a lot of work as governor, but just as important, he was always accessible. Even when he disagreed with us on something – and there wasn’t a lot of that – he would sit there and explain why.”
But Kaine is more than straight talk. When he was elected governor in 2006, one of his first appointments was Virginia AFL-CIO state director Danny LeBlanc for the powerful position of secretary of the commonwealth. Republicans revolted in the state Senate and rejected the appointment, the first time a nominee had been voted down in Virginia since the 1970s.
The defeat didn’t deter Kaine though. He appointed LeBlanc to a senior advisor role for workforce development and tapped former Operating Engineers business manager Ray Davenport to head up the Department of Labor and Industry.
Kaine was also instrumental in the construction of one of the nation’s last new coal plants in southwest Virginia in 2012, creating work and long-term jobs in a part of the state that needed them desperately.
In the four years since his election to the Senate, Kaine has earned a reputation as a straight shooter and a friend of working families. The AFL-CIO, which tracks votes on key labor issues, gives him a 96 percent lifetime rating.
Kaine is a strong supporter of collective bargaining rights, and has fought back against attacks on prevailing wage and the use of project labor agreements. He has also supported increasing the federal minimum wage and securing retirement protections for millions of working Americans.
In 2011, Kaine was serving as chairman of the Democratic National Committee when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker forced through legislation that stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights. He traveled to the capitol in Madison to join in the fight, a move praised by labor leaders in the state.
Prior to joining the Democratic ticket, Kaine clarified his position on the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which – like Hillary Clinton – he opposes. As a senator, he voted for fast track authority to negotiate the deal, but having seen its final form, said he determined it will harm working families and send jobs overseas.
Kaine has also had a questionable history with right-to-work in Virginia, but IBEW leaders in the state see no cause for concern. “Tim was under a lot of pressure in a pretty conservative state to say he supported that law,” Gray said. “Right-to-work has been on the books here since the 1940s. What’s more important is that he opposes it at the national level and that he’s been a fighter for working people for more than 20 years.”
Underwood agreed. “Tim Kaine is going to make a great vice president.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons License courtesy of Virginia Guard Public Affairs (Flickr)