La­bor unions lose drive for Democrats

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

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.

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