The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 19, 2018

Union election endorsements seek to bolster helpful candidates

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

The statewide general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6 will provide all of Michigan's registered voters one of those all-too-rare rare opportunities in life to stand up for what they believe in. 

Who should get your vote? Interest groups are pulling voters in all directions, trying to sway opinions. Every election cycle, lobbying in the form of phone calls, mailed literature, and online, television  and radio ads comes from candidates themselves, as well as religious groups, the National Rifle Association, environmentalists, chambers of commerce - and labor unions.

"It looks to a lot of people that the only candidates labor supports are Democrats," said Todd Tennis, a lobbyist for the IBEW for Capitol Services and an Ingham County Commissioner. "But that's not the case. For example, the IBEW is supporting the handful of Republicans who voted with us on prevailing wage."

The political endorsements at are certainly a form of lobbying by the unions affiliated with the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council - indeed it's an effort to sway your vote to support candidates who support the objectives of organized labor. Every election cycle, the endorsements found on these pages churn up conversations. Some callers and e-mailers among our union members want the list published earlier so they can reference it in filling out their absentee ballot. Others wonder why so and so is or isn't on the list. 

And in recent days one of the more strident voices left a message on our voicemail, obviously not appreciating the endorsement list itself. "When it gets to the point of who you endorse or who you want your members to vote for, that's the part I crumple up and throw in the trash can," the caller said. " Maybe you should leave politics out of it."

The caller continued: "I just get a kick out of all your backing for these Democrats,  liberals. Is it because they support the prevailing wage law, or were they anti- right to work? You know I am anti-right to work too. But there are a lot more issues than right-to-work. Republicans are all anti-labor? I disagree. And I think that liberals are anti-American. So I want to let you know that your endorsements mean absolutely nothing to me. I am going to vote for policies in line with the Make America Great agenda."

The unidentified caller didn't spell out what those Make America Great policies are that he supports, but his message did resonate, even though Trump isn't on the Nov. 6 ballot. Jeannette Bradshaw, the registrar for IBEW Local 58, said it's not uncommon for voters to "look at politics through their own filters. We're urging them to look at the issues and the candidates whose votes are going to impact their wallet, their industry, and their destiny."

Added Tennis: "It's like (former U.S. House Speaker ) John Boehner said, this is the Trump Party, it's not the Republican Party any more. I know organized labor would be happy to support more Republican candidates if they would support us, but most often what you find is that they just want to make unions disappear."

Why are some candidates and not others are endorsed by local union political action committees? Among lawmakers in Lansing, there is a long, recent record in state and federal governments that illustrate what party's candidates generally supports labor unions and working people, and what party doesn't. "A lot of lawmakers are not in Lansing and are out campaigning right now," Tennis said last week. "But when they have been in session over the past several years, with Republicans, it has just been one attack after another on organized labor."

Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, said the building trades and the rest of organized labor in the state would like nothing better than to have a political environment in the state where labor could endorse more Republican candidates. 

"For unions, not much has changed over the past 100 years," Devlin said. "The job of any union officer is to serve the needs of the workforce and collectively bargain on behalf of our members. It's always been about our members' pocketbook, safety, health and welfare, and that's the way we approach endorsements. If you support us, we support you, and we do support Republican lawmakers who have supported us.

"But in Lansing, the voting record on prevailing wage repeal and everything else anti-labor is right there for everyone to see. The Dems haven't cut our wages, our workers' comp, our unemployment insurance, and the Dems didn't give us right-to-work. The GOP has also attacked the teachers unions, and made it difficult for public unions to operate. All the issues that unions are fighting for, just about the entire GOP caucus is fighting against. It's not a stretch to say that most Republican lawmakers in Michigan would like to make unions go away. That's not an opinion. That's a fact - that's how they have voted.

"Our members are going to vote after they filter the input they get from cable news, the NRA, their church, or wherever. But a big part of our members' working lives is associated with their union, and hopefully our input matters, too."