Labor unions lose drive for Democrats
Labor unions, long a rich source of ground troops for national Democrats’ Election Day victories, are less enthusiastic this year, according to some movement leaders who say they are more focused on state-level races and feel left behind by the party on key issues such as Obamacare.
While public sector unions remain almost universally supportive of congressional Democrats, more traditional labor unions in key industries and key states express frustration with the party or say they haven’t been given a reason to get as deeply involved in the midterm elections.
In Ohio, no U.S. Senate races and few House races are on the ballots to energize unions. Unions also aren’t thrilled with the gubernatorial options the Democrats and Republicans have offered, said Eric Stevenson, an organizer for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 189 in Columbus.
“A lot of it is midterms — there’s nothing exciting on the ballot here,” he said. “But I think a lot of it is the state Democratic Party [messed] up. In my personal opinion, the choices they made for the top of the tickets — wow. … Did they vet any of these people beforehand or what?”
AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer said the prospect of a Republican-controlled Senate isn’t as potent a motivating factor for voters as trying to draw a contrast between the parties.
“We’re obviously not making the argument about Republican control as much as we are about [what] the individual candidates stand for,” he said last month on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “We are almost exclusively focused on grass-roots activism and person-to-person contact and building on the labor movement that exists in each place, in each location. So we’re obviously going to be putting more effort, able to put more effort into states like Michigan, Alaska, Iowa, Colorado and then in some of the other states.”
Others labor leaders said lingering concerns over President Obama’s agenda are what have dampened enthusiasm.
Terry O’Sullivan, general president for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, has consistently criticized Mr. Obama for stalling on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which has produced a major split within Democratic ranks between unions and environmentalists. Eyeing the construction jobs the project would generate, many unions have long pushed Mr. Obama to approve the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.
Mr. O’Sullivan said the administration also has not addressed labor concerns about Obamacare’s treatment of high-end health care plans, the so-called Cadillac-tax, which will hit some union-negotiated plans particularly hard when it takes effect later this decade.
“I certainly think that it’s going to affect turnout,” Mr. O’Sullivan told The Hill this year. “You have people that are disillusioned and angry; they either vote a different way or they don’t vote at all.”
Despite the grumbling, some union organizations vow to back Democrats.
The AFL-CIO has deployed its resources in key states, and the American Federation of Teachers plans to spend more than $20 million on elections this year, more than twice the $8.2 million spent in 2008.
AFT President Randi Weingarten even campaigned in Alaska with Sen. Mark Begich, hoping to boost the Democrat as he tries to fend off a stiff challenge from Republican Dan Sullivan.