With Election Day almost here, IBEW members are doing all
they can to get out the vote for races across the country. In the Midwest, that
includes a handful of governor’s races critical to the futures of working
|Milwaukee Local 2150 members Paul Hartgerink, left, Bob Stone and Jim Meyer talk with International President Lonnie R. Stephenson at a rally to get out the vote for Labor-backed candidates.
Many of Labor’s most crushing blows in recent years have come from states traditionally considered the bedrock of the labor movement. Midwestern states including Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all have gubernatorial races this year, and they could set the stage for working families for years to come.
“IBEW members are more engaged than ever before,” said Wisconsin Political Coordinator Shawn Reents. “This is the best chance we’ve had since 2010 to change things for the better.”
One of labor’s biggest foils, Gov. Scott Walker is in a tight race against Democratic challenger Tony Evers. During Walker’s tenure, the Badger state has suffered blows including right-to-work, the destruction of project labor agreements and the prevailing wage and the passage of Act 10, which took away the bargaining rights of public sector workers.
“These issues are a direct attack our livelihood,” Reents said.
International President Lonnie R. Stephenson and Sixth District Vice President David Ruhmkorff visited the state on Monday. They attended a rally, which also had Mandela Barnes, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, in attendance. Afterward, Stephenson and Ruhmkorff canvassed in Madison and hit the phones to help get out the vote.
“It really showed our members that the leadership cares,” Reents said. “It also showed how important this election is.”
To the south in neighboring Illinois, IBEW members are getting out the vote with the state’s AFL-CIO chapter, canvassing and phone banking for pro-working family candidates up and down the ballot. Democratic candidate for governor, J.B. Pritzker, is leading incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner, though the race is far too close to take a single vote for granted.
Rauner has been hostile to unions while in office, attacking public-sector unions and pensions, and donating $500,000 of his own fortune to the anti-union Illinois Policy Institute, reported online news publication The Intercept.
|Illinois gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker at Rockford, Ill., Local 364's training center in April. It was one of several IBEW halls and training center's he's visited to hear about the issues that matter to working families. Photo Credit: J.B. for Governor
By contrast, Pritzker has spoken in favor of working people and been a frequent guest at IBEW halls across the state.
“We’re going to ban three words in the dictionary in Illinois: ‘right-to-work,’” Pritzker said recently at a rally with former Vice President Joe Biden.
In Michigan, it’s an open seat for governor and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, who has vowed to repeal the state’s right-to-work law, holds a slim lead. Her opponent, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, supports right-to-work and recently joined a lawsuit to eliminate health care protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf is up for reelection in the state where he recently unveiled a major expansion of apprenticeship opportunities at Pittsburgh Local 5’s training center.
Wolf has been a stopgap for labor during his first term, facing Republican majorities in the state legislature, said Pennsylvania Political Coordinator Kris Anderson.
“I like to think things are trending in a good direction,” Anderson said. “Wolf has good notoriety, notoriety and a good understanding of what’s important to working class people.”
Wolf has received unanimous endorsements from the state AFL-CIO and the Building Trades. He also recorded a video for IBEW members.
“Your organization is a testament to the progress we can all make working together when we prioritize the important issues,” Wolf said. “We need to continue to work together.”
Conversely, Republican challenger Scott Wagner has sponsored anti-labor bills and even compared organized labor to Adolf Hitler, Anderson said. Wagner also declined to release his tax returns, saying he feared it would lead to an organizing drive at his waste management company.
“Scott Wagner has repeatedly been on the opposite side of working families,” Anderson said.
In Ohio, the race for governor between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine a toss-up.
“Members here are very well engaged,” said Ohio State Coordinator David Moran. “We’re all in for Cordray.”
Moran says the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureaue is a friend of the IBEW, dating back to his days at the state’s attorney general. Not so with DeWine, the current attorney general.
“If DeWine wins, we’ll get right-to-work,” Moran said. “If Cordray wins, we could get wins all the way down the ticket, all for working people.”
Moran says the state Legislature is solidly Republican and anti-labor right now, so they need a win at the gubernatorial level serve as a block.
“It’s our last best chance. If we don’t win this one, we lose for the next 10 years,” Moran said, referencing the nationwide redistricting in 2020, where congressional lines are redrawn and the balance of power at the state level can shift for the next decade.
“Our members support the right candidates, it’s just a matter of getting everyone to the polls,” Reents said, echoing a sentiment shared across the Rust Belt. “They recognize how important this is.”