Though elections are next year unions already revving up
In Iowa, Service Employees Local 199 president Kathy Glasson is so angry about the attacks on workers that she herself decided to run for governor of the state. Glasson, way back and in the center, is seen here with enthusiastic union supporters. | Kathy Glasson for Governor Facebook page

The November 2018 election may be 14 months away, but unions are already revving up for it, especially for governors’ races.

From Florida to Illinois to Ohio to New Mexico to Michigan — and that’s just for starters — unions have already endorsed gubernatorial hopefuls.

And in Iowa, Service Employees Local 199 President Cathy Glasson is so pissed off by the anti-union anti-worker actions of ruling Republicans in both Washington, D.C., and the state capital of Des Moines that she’s thrown her own hat into the multi-candidate Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The governors’ races are important to workers and their allies, especially next year. That’s because all but one or two of the 36 governors to be elected next fall will have power over redistricting, along with their state legislatures.

And since the GOP was successful at the polls in the 2010 election, its creative gerrymandering locked in anti-worker legislative majorities both in state capitals and the U.S. House for a decade. Politically evenly split states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa have largely Republican anti-worker legislatures and congressional delegations, too. The result has been a raft of anti-worker laws.

To prevent a rerun of the 2010 disaster, several unions have already endorsed candidates for governors’ chairs. And, as usual, there was at least one controversy, in Illinois.

There, five Democratic hopefuls, including scions of the rich Kennedy and Pritzker clans, vied to take on anti-worker right wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose crusade to destroy unions virtually paralyzed the state budget and the state government for three years.

In June, the Illinois AFL-CIO endorsed Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain. In the state fed central committee’s vote, Pritzker defeated Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy — a son of the late Attorney General and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — State Sen. Daniel Biss, State Rep. Scott Drury, Chicago Alderwoman Ameya Pawar and Bob Daiber, a school superintendent from Southern Illinois.

“Rauner is running for re-election and the Illinois labor movement needs to put its collective resources behind one qualified candidate,” state fed President Michael Carrigan said in explaining the early endorsement. Pritzker would empower workers, while “not shifting more power and wealth to the corporate class,” Carrigan added.

But the endorsement drew a lot of opposition, the Labor Paper of Peoria reported. Building trades unions backed Pritzker, but AFSCME District Council 31, the Service Employees and the Teachers all opposed the nod. All three represent state workers whom Rauner has targeted. And Biss reminded listeners that Pritzker’s hotel chain is noted for resisting unions. That includes illegally firing pro-union workers.

The other runners-up drew parallels between the state fed’s early endorsement of Pritzker and several unions’ early endorsements of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, despite rank-and-file enthusiasm for challenging Sen. Bernie Sanders. Kennedy told the Cook County (Chicago) Democratic Committee that Illinois voters and unionists would reject “such an early pick in the back room of a restaurant.”

The other states’ gubernatorial races show scattered endorsements:

CALIFORNIA: In December 2015, the California Nurses Association, the largest and most-influential statewide sector of National Nurses United, endorsed Lieut. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the former San Francisco Mayor, to succeed term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

“Gavin has been a trailblazer” said union Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro, after 1,000 delegates to CNA’s state convention voted for him. “He set the standard on issues that weren’t always popular as mayor, from universal healthcare to same-sex marriage, to local solutions for climate change. His intelligence, his presence, his passion, and the courage of his commitments have been a hallmark of his career. He is a natural ally of ours, and his message resonates deeply with nurses.”

“This is a big deal,” said Newsom of “the first endorsement of my campaign.” He again stressed his efforts to combat poverty and income inequality and his backing for single-payer government-run health care — a key NNU/CNA cause which Brown is dubious about.

FLORIDA: In June, The Steelworkers endorsed former Rep. Gwen Graham (D). The GOP legislature redistricted her out of her U.S. House seat after one term on Capitol Hill. Her main competitor is Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, who has endorsements from state and local politicians. Graham counters with backing from USW and from Emily’s List, which raises funds for pro-choice candidates, most of them women. Right-wing GOP Gov. Rick Scott, a former for-profit hospital chain CEO, is term-limited and may run for U.S. senator.

“Florida’s working families deserve a fair shake,” said Steelworkers District 9 Director Daniel Flippo. “Instead, during the last six years of the current administration, Florida’s working families suffered under policies that give even more power to the richest and most powerful among us.” Scott pushed tax cuts for special interests and corporations through the predominantly Republican — and gerrymandered — state legislature, while blocking pro-worker legislation, Flippo added.

“Gwen Graham is clearly the best choice to represent the interests of all Floridians,” said Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. “In Congress, she fought for policies to lift workers and our families, including her support for new laws to ensure fair pay and protections from workplace discrimination. She also supports smart investments to create new manufacturing jobs by rebuilding Florida’s crumbling roads and bridges.”

OHIO: The Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council joined two unions, Painters District 6 and Pipefitters Local 120, in early endorsements of Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, a pro-worker labor lawyer whose father was a Boilermaker, for governor. Republican John Kasich is term-limited. Four candidates in each party vie to succeed him.

Sutton “has the experience and ability” to work with state lawmakers “to grow our economy and create good-paying jobs,” Cleveland Building Trades Executive Secretary Dave Wondolowski told the Ohio Labor Citizen. “I spent my life standing up for working families: The Laborers, the Fire Fighters, the Teachers,” Sutton told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I want to be the governor who stands up to powerful interests on behalf of working people.”

NEW YORK: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has already said he’ll seek a third term. There was some union grumbling about Cuomo in the run-up to 2014. The Working Families Party, which usually cross-endorses Democratic hopefuls, barely backed Cuomo at its party convention over progressive law professor Zephyr Teachout. New York unions have yet to make endorsements. The WFP’s big question is whether they’ll dump or back Cuomo.

NEW MEXICO: Several days after its Florida endorsement, USW backed Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the New Mexico governor’s chair. District 12 Director Robert LaVenture called Grisham “a strong voice for American families” and “a refreshing change in today’s political landscape,” in contrast with the state’s current GOP governor, Susana Martinez. Martinez is eligible to seek re-election next year. Other Republican governors seeking new terms include Rauner, Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker.

MICHIGAN: In May, the Carpenters, who are independent from both the AFL-CIO and Change To Win, endorsed former state lawmaker Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, now the Ingham County prosecutor. The union has 14,000 Michigan members. Its Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Mike Jackson, praises Whitmer’s leadership in the fight against right-to-work laws, which the GOP-run legislature passed and right wing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed.

IOWA: Then there’s Cathy Glasson, the pissed-off President of SEIU Local 199. The Coralville resident and intensive care unit registered nurse at the University of Iowa hospitals, 58, has already thrown her hat — in a well-produced video — into the ring.

Her big issues are raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, making union organizing easier and universal health care. That’s in direct contrast to the current GOP-run state government, where the legislature and two governors stripped many collective bargaining rights from state workers. The legislature also rolled back local cities’ minimum wage hikes.

“It’s time for bold, progressive leadership in the governor’s office and the legislature,” Glasson said in her video. “Now is not the time to settle for half measures. We need big ideas and gutsy solutions to the problems working people in this state face every day.”

WISCONSIN: Glasson isn’t the only unionist seeking a prominent office. There may be two in Wisconsin, one running for governor and the other for the U.S. House.

The Associated Press reported that Mahlon Mitchell, former president of the state Fire Fighters, is considering seeking the Democratic nomination against ultra-right GOP Gov. Scott Walker, the bête noire of Badger State unionists.

Walker already has more campaign cash in the bank than he did for his re-election run in 2014, but less than when the state’s unions led an unsuccessful recall campaign against him the year before. Walker prompted that recall with his notorious Act 10, which virtually trashed most public sector unions in Wisconsin. Act 10 passed over massive protests in Madison.

Mitchell was among the leaders of those protests, and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in the recall election.  The same day Mitchell told AP his thoughts this past summer, pro-worker Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, a first-time candidate who is considered the strongest contender, launched his gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, Ironworker Randy Bryce of Kenosha seeks the Democratic nomination against U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R), who always loses their common hometown but wins in the rural areas of the district. Bryce’s campaign has drawn nationwide attention.

“I don’t need a law degree. I don’t need a doctorate. I have ears to listen,” Bryce says in his introductory video. He’s also offered to switch jobs with Ryan so that the Speaker can learn how the rest of the country really lives. The video went viral on the Internet.

Bryce’s big issue — which also may be a big issue for other Democrats next year — is the GOP’s health care bill, which Ryan narrowly pushed through the GOP-run U.S. House. The so-called American Health Care Act would replace the 7-year-old Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with a law to yank health care from 22 million people and raise the health insurance rates and premiums for millions more, strictly to give a $900 billion tax cut over the next decade, with $700 billion of it going to the rich and corporations.

Walker’s anti-union actions pushed Bryce into the U.S. House race. He first got involved by campaigning against Walker, after the Ironworkers said they needed a political coordinator for Ryan’s district. Walker “had been the Milwaukee County executive and he had been treating the county workers just like garbage. I was very active making sure he didn’t get elected — but he did. Then ten times more so once he got into office, and especially after he announced that he was going to put forward Act 10,” Bryce told The American Prospect.

Bryce says Ryan hasn’t discussed the health care law at home. “We didn’t know how it would affect us because he hasn’t been here for almost two years to hold a public town hall. We had to find out” from Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a Painter who represents an adjoining district. Bryce said Pocan held two town halls about health care in Ryan’s district “and they were packed,” Bryce reports. Adds Bryce of Ryan’s health care bill: “There’s not one person here that’s looking forward to tax cuts for these richest people who already have everything.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.