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The seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia - Photo credit: Creative Commons/Flickr User Andrew Bain  

Virginia voters head to the polls on Nov. 7 to choose a new governor and state Legislature, and IBEW members in the state have been working hard to convince their neighbors to cast their votes for working families.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, center, joined former vice president Joe Biden and IBEW Local 26 President Tom Myers for a roundtable discussion on workforce development in October.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is facing off against long-time Republican political operative and corporate lobbyist Ed Gillespie, who served previously as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as a top White House advisor to President George W. Bush.

“The choice couldn’t be much clearer,” said Newport News Local 1340 Business Manager Jeff Rowe, who also serves as president of the Virginia Association of the IBEW. “Ed Gillespie has dedicated his life to making big money representing corporations against the interests of working people. He’s got a long history of looking out for special interests, and Ralph Northam’s history as a pediatrician, as an advocate for working families, that’s the kind of person I want representing us in Richmond.”

Neil Gray, a Fourth District international representative who serves as the IBEW’s political coordinator in Virginia, says Northam has always had an open door for the IBEW, and that the lieutenant governor recently sat down to talk with International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, Fourth District International Vice President Brian Malloy and others to discuss the issues important to the Brotherhood.

Stephenson encouraged Northam to pay attention to issues like apprenticeships and training, right-to-work and worker misclassification, where would-be employees are wrongly treated as independent contractors to avoid paying health care and retirement benefits. Northam also indicated that he’d like to have IBEW representatives on key advisory committees dealing with workforce development and tradesman licensing, among others.

On Oct. 15, Northam’s campaign also invited Washington, D.C., Local 26 President Tom Myers to join him and former vice president Joe Biden at a roundtable discussion on workforce development in Reston. Myers said Northam hit all the right notes during the event, promising he’d stand with workers and with unions as governor. “He said the word ‘union’ like he was proud to include us as part of his plan for Virginia,” Myers said. “He’ll be with us on apprenticeships and other important issues. I’m sure of that.”

Former vice president Joe Biden, Virginia gubernatorial candidate and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and Washington, D.C., Local 26 President Tom Myers at a campaign event in Reston.

Gray said he expects Northam to continue to focus on jobs, something that has paid off for IBEW members under Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “The last four years under Gov. McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Northam have been great for jobs in Virginia. This administration has made putting people to work a top priority, and they’ve delivered,” he said. Gray cited the October announcement of a new $1 billion Facebook data center to be built with union labor outside of Richmond as the latest of many big projects the McAuliffe/Northam administration has lured to the state.

“There’s work left to do to make sure everyone who wants a job has one,” said Gray, “but that’s why electing Ralph Northam is so important.”

The governor also holds enormous power in the redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts, which will begin following the 2020 census. That means this election could have consequences that could last for a decade or longer.

Gillespie’s record for workers is starkly different from Northam’s. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker moved to strip collective bargaining rights from public-sector workers in 2012, Gillespie said the move made “a lot of sense,” and, “We ought to have more of it.” He has opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage and called himself a “strong supporter” of right-to-work laws. In 2012 Gillespie told Fox News that unions are “greedy” for fighting for good health care and strong retirement protections for their members.

“That kind of thinking is why Ed Gillespie is bad for workers and bad for Virginia,” Gray said.

Rowe says his members and IBEW members around the state have been working hard for Northam’s election and for their local House of Delegates and state Senate races. “This is important stuff,” he said. “Republicans tried to put right-to-work in the state constitution last year, and they’ll do it again if we let them control the house, the senate and the governor’s office. Bad things would be headed our way without an ally for a governor.”

In Newport News, Local 1340 members and staff have been communicating with brothers and sisters on jobsites, through mailings and by partnering with the local labor coalition to knock on union doors to talk about the issues at stake.

In Northern Virginia, Local 26 members have sent multiple personalized postcards to their Virginia brothers and sisters and are coordinating with the AFL-CIO for weekend precinct walks in key House of Delegates districts. Business Manager George Hogan will lead the Oct. 28 canvas from the local’s hall in Annandale and Myers will lead the effort on Nov. 4, the election’s final weekend.

“Ralph Northam is a better candidate for me and my family, and he’s a better candidate for the IBEW,” Rowe said. “He’ll work with us to continue creating jobs in Virginia, and he’ll make sure our signatory contractors have a fair chance to get the work that’s coming.”

Gray said the bottom line is about who each candidate will fight for in office. “Northam has fought for working families his entire career. Ed Gillespie has spent 40 years working in Washington, fighting for companies like Enron and for big banks opposing things like student loan reform for struggling families. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no comparison. IBEW members need to get out and vote and make sure their families, friends and union brothers and sisters do too.”

Virginians and members from neighboring states who would like to help out in the final weeks are encouraged to check with locals or to join one of the ‘Labor 2017’ walks or phone banks being coordinated all over the state by the Virginia AFL-CIO. The get-out-the-vote effort benefits Northam as well as endorsed candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring.