Big Labor, Democrats in political break-up

For decades, labor unions and the Democratic party have gone together like Romeo and Juliet, Mickey and Minnie, and Tom and Katie. By law, unions are nonpartisan, but it's no secret their ideals usually mesh closer with Democratic than Republican philosophy and platforms. In Stark County, OH though, the love affair is over, at least for the time being. Not quite a divorce, but most definitely a legal separation.

"This is not about anything personally, but we're not getting the respect that's due," said Mike McElfresh, second vice president of the Hall of Fame Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Effective immediately, the council and its unions - which represent 30,000 workers - won't donate money, walk door-to-door or make phone calls in support of Democratic political candidates in Stark County. The council sent a letter two weeks ago to the county Democratic Executive Committee, informing them of the move. It was signed by 31 local labor leaders - representing every group from a teacher's union to roofers.

"We could have got 85 or 100 signatures if I'd have wanted to," said Daniel Sciury, president of the council. "We ... deserve a hell of a lot more than we've been getting from them."


The knock-down, drag-out that severed the relationship centered on the summer appointment of a Democrat to fill a vacant seat on the county board of elections. It's only a $16,000-a-year job, but that's not the point, Sciury said. It was the way that slot was filled that forced labor leaders to take a stand, though the relationship already was on the rocks.

"It goes way beyond that," Sciury said.

He said unions put as many as 50 people on the street in the county on a weekend, in support of state and national Democratic candidates. Many politicians who hold seats on the party's executive board forget that, he said.

On July 24, county Democratic Chairman Johnnie Maier recommended attorney Samuel Ferruccio Jr. to fill the elections board seat. The four-member elections board is comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats, whose responsibility is overseeing all elections in Stark.

Labor leaders, though, believe they'd earned a seat. One of their own, William Sherer, held a seat for a dozen years. So when board member Randy Gonzalez resigned, they figured they'd get his empty chair alongside Maier at the elections board table. They suggested McElfresh for the post.

Maier said Ferruccio earned 51 votes and McElfresh only 14 from the executive committee.

"We had an election," Maier said. "It was a very democratic process."


Maier characterizes the rift as a "family misunderstanding."

Sciury said Maier underestimates the council's resolve.

"He's wrong," Sciury said.

The only exceptions to the rule - the council still supports Democrat William Healy in his bid to unseat Republican Janet Weir Creighton as Canton mayor, and will support candidates who also are members of the council, such as Canton City Councilman Joe Carbenia.

In the Sept. 10 letter from the council to the executive committee, signers demanded a seat on the elections board, 20 more seats on the executive committee, and more seats on committees and boards governed by the Democratic party.

Maier said he wants to work out problems with union leaders, and added he's willing to negotiate.

"We will continue to stand for them ... for all working-class families; that's who we are as a party," he said.

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern was out of the country and unavailable for comment, but Sciury said Redfern has asked to meet with him to try to help fix the differences.

"Usually, these things tend to work themselves out," said Randy Borntgrager, a state party spokesman.

Though the number of unionized employees in the U.S. has shrunk from one in every five workers to about one in every 10 during the past 25 years, they remain a prized group for many Democrats. In 2006, labor parties donated $66 million to Democrats, compared to $8 million for Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group.


No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails