Creative Commons/Flickr user Jim Bowen
Fort Smith, Ark., Local 700 organizer Donald McKinney is running for office with his eye on the state Capitol. He aims to be a voice for working families in the state's House of Representatives.

Donald McKinney, a Fort Smith, Ark., Local 700 organizer running for the statehouse, says fighting for workers will be his top priority if elected.

An IBEW local organizer is running for an Arkansas House seat with the ambitious goal of overturning the state’s anti-union right-to-work law.

 “I’m going to focus on that heavily,” said Donald McKinney, a journeyman inside wireman who joined the Fort Smith, Ark., Local 700 staff as an organizer last year. “States with right-to-work have a higher poverty level, lower average income level, and more safety issues – more deaths and injuries on the job.”

Arkansas was the first right-to-work state – now there are 28 – with voters passing a constitutional amendment in 1944. The laws, which allow workers to reap the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without contributing to its cost, weaken unions and the ability of workers to bargain fair wages and benefits and protect their health and safety on the job.

McKinney, 41, is running as a Democrat for House District 81, a seat currently held by a first-term Republican. So far, he has no opponent for the May 2018 primary. The general election is Nov. 6.

A married father of four, he served in the Arkansas National Guard for 21 years, retiring in 2016. He’s also second-generation IBEW: His father is Tenth District International Representative Charles McKinney, who joined the union in 1996 when he organized electricians at the small contracting company where he was project manager.

His son started mulling a run for office after the November 2016 election. “I was thinking justice of the peace or the school board, just to get my toe in,” he said. Six months later, a chat with an AFL-CIO political staffer led to a meeting with the Arkansas chair of the Democratic Party, who urged him to run for the statehouse.

Candidate McKinney wants to see Arkansas' right-to-work law repealed. This AFL-CIO chart illustrates why.

In addition to workers’ rights, wages and safety and issues affecting active and retired service members are high on McKinney’s list of priorities. He also wants to expand vocational training that prepares workers for good, family-wage jobs, and he believes teachers need a raise.

“Teachers’ pay in the public school system is ridiculously low,” he said. “I went to trade school and make twice as much as teachers who went to college and spent thousands and thousands of dollars on their education.”

As he hits the campaign trail, he is talking about those issues and more, particularly right-to-work – a subject some Democrats running for office try to duck. “He’s very outspoken about it,” said Local 700 Business Manager Eugene Wilson, who met McKinney when they were both IBEW apprentices. “I believe he’s going to be a strong candidate.”

And his skills as an organizer will come in especially handy.

“I’m approaching this campaign, just like I would approach an organizing campaign,” McKinney said. “Door-to-door, face-to-face, explain what my goals are, find out what their goals are and basically try to meet in the middle.”