7/29/08

SEIU overpays Dem candidate, public sours

Related story: "An SEIU windfall for Jill, or a ‘corrupt bargain?’"
More Jill Long Thompson stories: here

Spending too much union-dues on politicians can backfire

A battle among organized labor is costing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson money and volunteers in her bid to upset incumbent Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Although Democrats traditionally garner the support of major union groups, the United Auto Workers union and AFL-CIO - which supported Long Thompson's opponent in the primary - have refused to fully endorse her candidacy. Long Thompson's ties to another major union - the Service Employees International Union - also are complicating factors. The SEIU has contributed nearly $1 million to her campaign.

“Organized labor in Indiana is the strong right arm of the Democratic Party and in that sense they do bring a lot of contributions and a lot of people power to the table,” said Ray Scheele, political science professor at Ball State University.

But this year, the unions can't seem to get on the same page.

The Indiana AFL-CIO - American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations - is an alliance of 800 local unions in Indiana belonging to 50 International Unions, such as the United Auto Workers union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

AFSCME Council 62 and the Unity Team - UAW/AFT Local 9212 in Indiana - are the two unions that have primarily represented state employees in the past.

They supported Democrat Jim Schellinger in the May primary for governor, giving him hundreds of thousands of dollars and providing volunteers.

The UAW even filed a last-ditch-effort complaint against Long Thompson just days before the election, but the complaint went nowhere.

Then on the same day as the state Democratic Convention, UAW leadership voted not to endorse Long Thompson.

The executive board of the state AFL-CIO did endorse Long Thompson the first week of June.

“We are proud to give our full support to Jill Long Thompson in her campaign for governor,” Indiana AFL-CIO President Ken Zeller said in a written statement. “She has a long record of standing up for working families. Her experience and commitment to growing the economy and creating good-paying jobs for all Hoosiers will help put Indiana back on track.”

But David Warrick, executive director of AFSCME Council 62 and a member of the state AFL-CIO executive board, said a problem came up shortly after the announced endorsement.

So on June 27 at the AFL-CIO's convention where official endorsements are made, the state executive board and the delegates to the convention voted overwhelmingly not to fully endorse Long Thompson until she clarifies and settles one key issue.

Meanwhile, the SEIU has been taking up the slack, pouring $900,000 into her campaign to unseat Daniels.

Ball State's Scheele said the UAW and AFL-CIO have weakened since the SEIU split and the groups are now battling each other for membership and dues.

This appears to be at the heart of the problem for Long Thompson.

In the early 1990s, then-Gov. Evan Bayh signed an executive order allowing state employees to collectively bargain. After a long organizing drive in which a number of unions sought to represent the employees, the Unity Team won the election to serve four different sectors of employees, and AFSCME won the right to represent several other sectors.

Bayh then issued a second executive order recognizing the unions and the units they represented.

Democratic Govs. Frank O'Bannon and Joe Kernan renewed those executive orders after taking office. But Daniels stripped those rights on his first day in office.

Long Thompson has pledged to restore collective bargaining rights for state employees, but the AFL-CIO and UAW want her to go further and promise to recognize the two unions that were elected previously to bargain for state employees.

If not, a new organizing effort would have to be undertaken and other unions - including SEIU - could win the right to represent the 20,000 state employees.

“The primary is over and it's time for everybody to get together,” said Mo Davison, director of UAW Region 3, which includes Kentucky and Indiana. “We're ready to do that if we feel she does the right things for our members. We have met with her personally. She understands the issue. The ball is in her court.”

Travis Lowe, campaign manager for Long Thompson, said he couldn't speak to the disagreement between the unions.

“Jill has stated many times that she strongly believes in employees, whether private or public, having the right to collectively bargain and has pledged to restore that right. She still stands by that and is absolutely going to do that,” he said. “But it is not Jill's choice who those employees are represented by - it's the choice of the employees.”

Lowe also noted that many individual members of these unions - if not the leadership - are strongly behind Long Thompson.

“Even now on a daily basis we receive contributions from members,” he said. “The support for Jill is wide and deep among organized labor.”

Orval E. Plumlee, president of UAW Local 2209 in Fort Wayne, said he expects the disagreement to fade soon.

“It's a matter of timing and working out the details,” he said. “I can guarantee you we will not be endorsing Mr. Daniels.”

Five calls to the state AFL-CIO last week seeking comment were not returned.

Genie Kastrup, political director for SEIU, said her union is excited to support Long Thompson. The SEIU has 5,000 members in Indiana, mostly hospital workers and public employees living in northwest Indiana.

Her group plans to not only spend money in its effort to get Long Thompson elected but will also assign 17 full-time members to voter registration and other duties.

“When we talk to our members in Indiana, they are ready for a change, and Jill has a strong record supporting union and working family issues,” Kastrup said.

As for the behind-the-scenes union politics, she said Long Thompson has committed to reinstate collective bargaining rights, which is all that is within her authority.

“She can't just give us the state employees. She can restore them, and it's up to the state workers to decide if they want a union and which union they want to represent them,” she said. “I think eventually the unions will come together. State workers are a small piece of all the unorganized workers out there. I would hope that we would all be on a united front because we've seen what the alternative is for the last four years.”

Meanwhile, Daniels has garnered some union support of his own, including individual leaders in various building trades, the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana and the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police.

“This campaign is a coalition unlike people have seen in recent years in Indiana,” said Cam Savage, spokesman for Daniels' campaign. “There is plenty of room in this movement for anyone who wants Indiana to get on track and succeed.”

And he noted the biggest reason behind their union success is that people see Daniels is creating jobs.

“We have tried to be as open as we could possibly be. He reached out to groups of all kinds, not just unions. I think that is going to pay off. Whether that means endorsements I'm not sure,” Savage said.

Scheele said Long Thompson shouldn't be too concerned because most union members would not consider voting for a Republican over a Democrat, even if she hasn't completely toed the line.

“I think the rank and file will end up voting overwhelmingly Democratic even if the leadership controls the money and volunteers,” he said.

(journalgazette.net)

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