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Why Would Union Members Vote Republican?

Berry Craig: The union-haters must still be in hog heaven over an AFL-CIO-sponsored poll that showed most Massachusetts union households supported Republican Scott Brown over union-endorsed Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
richard trumka

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Union Members Voted for Scott Brown

‘A union member voting Republican is like a rabbit voting for hunting season to open’

The union-haters must still be in hog heaven over an AFL-CIO-sponsored poll that showed most Massachusetts union households supported Republican Scott Brown over union-endorsed Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The margin was 49 to 46 percent. The numbers remind me again of Pogo’s apt observation: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO unanimously endorsed Coakley. She was clearly the pro-union candidate, according to Robert Haynes, president of the Bay State labor federation.

Nonetheless, Karen Ackerman, the national AFL-CIO’s political director admitted to the Wall Street Journal that “What happened in Massachusetts is that working families did not see the Democratic candidate as being on their side.”

Apparently, more than a few union members blame the still sluggish economy on President Barack Obama and the Democrats. Jeff Wiggins and Mike Hall don’t get it.

“Bush and Cheney’s warmed over Reagan era ‘trickle-down’ economics caused the economic mess we’re in, and yet people want to punish Obama and the Democrats?” asked Wiggins, a Kentucky labor leader. “That’s crazy.”

Brown is “a Bush-Cheney clone” on the economy, wrote Hall on the AFL-CIO Now Blog. “Not only does [Brown]…believe the answer to the economic crisis is more tax cuts for the wealthy; he opposes a proposed fee on Wall Street firms that received taxpayer bailouts and then gave extravagant bonuses to executives,” he added.

In another posting, Hall quoted Haynes who said Brown snubbed Massachusetts unions. Haynes said Brown “refused to fill out the AFL-CIO questionnaire or appear at the AFL-CIO candidates’ forum to tell workers directly what he stands for. As a candidate, Martha Coakley filled out our questionnaire and appeared at our candidates’ forum to speak directly to us about where she stands.”

Coakley is for the Employee Free Choice Act, which the AFL-CIO says “would allow workers, not corporations, to choose whether and how they want to form a union.” (For the record, the proposed legislation does not outlaw the secret ballot.)

Brown, according to Hall, is against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Anyway, Brad Woodhouse, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, told the WSJ that "the election in Massachusetts involved the same type of frustration and anger at Washington and the current state of the economy that swept President Obama into office in 2008.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told AFL-CIO Now Blog writer Tula Connell that “the American people are justifiably uncertain and fearful in these tough economic times.” He said the outcome in Massachusetts “…should be a sobering reminder to candidates running in 2010.”

Trumka backed Obama in 2008. I did, too.

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But he warned, “The American people are urgently expecting results from Washington. If elected officials want the support of working families, they need to fight to win legislation on jobs, health care and financial regulation. Americans need a champion who will fight for their cause.”

Brown isn’t the champion Trumka has in mind. He called the Republican’s win “…a giant step backward for working families. Brown has already promised to be the 41st vote for the Republican party of NO on crucial improvements for working men and women.”

I’ll add a Presbyterian “amen” to brother Trumka’s remarks.

Brown, who favored the McCain-Palin ticket, wants a “trickle down” encore. So will whoever wins the GOP nomination in 2012.

That’s why this union card-carrying Hubert Humphrey Democrat expects to be in Obama’s corner again in 2012.

I’ve been here before. So have some of my union brothers and sisters, including many in Massachusetts .

Back in 1980, we weren’t exactly wild about President Jimmy Carter. We voted for him four years before. But we were pulling for Kennedy, who was more to our liking, to get the Democratic presidential nomination.

When Carter was re-nominated, we got behind him. The other guy was Ronald Reagan, the most anti-union president since Herbert Hoover.

“A union member voting for Reagan would be like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders” said a sign in a union hall in 1980 in Paducah, Kentucky , where I teach. “A union member voting Republican would be like a rabbit voting for hunting season to open,” suggested Kentucky Labor Secretary J.R Gray, a former Democratic state legislator and an ex-Machinists union official.

Admittedly, the whole Democratic Party hasn’t always been with us.

In the 1930s, segregationist Southern Democrats in Congress joined their anti-labor Yankee Republican brethren in battling unions, FDR and the New Deal, all of which they slammed as “socialist.” Sound familiar? Some of today’s “Blue Dog Democrats” are allied with the GOP in opposing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Yet by and large, the Democrats have done much more for unions than Republicans have. (The few liberal, pro-union Republicans, including Sen. Ed Brooke of Massachusetts , are long gone from Congress.)

Berry Craig

Ted Kennedy earned a 93-percent pro-labor lifetime score from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education. As a senator, Obama notched a 98 percent COPE rating.

I’d bet big money Coakley would have scored in the 90s. I’d also wager a tidy sum that Brown’s COPE tally will be a whole lot lower.

Berry Craig