Are Labor Endorsed Candidates True Friends Of Organized Labor? Part 2

For decades, workers who mined iron ore in northeastern Minnesota suffered numerous injustices at the hands of the mining companies that formed the omnipotent Steel Trust. It was only through the political process that these early iron miners were ultimately successful in their fight for worker’s rights, finally signing a contract with the United Steelworkers in 1943, and no where is the sense of justice for workers today stronger than on the Iron Range. Indeed, former Governor Rudy Perpich (a native of the Mesabi Range) went ballistic when initially denied a pension of around $80 per month he earned at a job decades earlier, and was ridiculed and criticized by many in the Twin Cities for fighting the employer for what was for him a very nominal sum. What they couldn’t seem to understand is that for Rangers, it’s not the money, it’s the principle: you earned it, you’re entitled to it. No exceptions. This basic concept is so deeply ingrained in the political culture of the Iron Range that breaking from it seems unconscionable.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for campaigns to end with debts owed to employees for wages earned or for expenses incurred. Sometimes these workers eventually get paid, but other times they are left out in the cold, much like steelworkers who lost their pensions after the bankruptcy of National Steel. A true trade unionist believes in justice for workers, and will adhere to that principle whether employing people in business or for a political campaign. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that a candidate receiving endorsement from organized labor would make paying their workers a priority. And if you think only a Republican would dare violate this covenant with workers, think again. As AFL-CIO President Trumka astutely pointed out months ago, labor’s parlor friends are all too often found within the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Jeff Anderson for Minnesota is the only campaign to report outstanding debts to employees for wages (ranging from $625 to $3000) totaling $6,625, with the remaining $24,153 debt owed for vendor payments/candidate loans. The circumstances surrounding these on-going obligations to former employees is indeed troubling to see from a labor endorsed democrat, particularly one who is a native of the Vermilion Range. These staffers (who include a college student and a single parent) have been waiting since August for their final paychecks. Anderson held a fundraiser to pay off his campaign debt in late December, receiving $1000 from the Northeast Area Labor Council and $2000 from the Boilermakers. Inexplicably, he didn’t use this money to pay his workers. Instead, on 31 December Anderson paid himself $1120 for ‘reimbursement’, leaving a remaining balance in his campaign coffers of $5,979 and his workers wondering exactly when they are going to get paid.

Friends of Tarryl Clark 2012 reports outstanding debts to vendors of $24,135.50. Clark’s FEC report reflects absolutely no payments or monies owed to her for reimbursement for expenses during the course of the campaign.

Cravaack for Congress has no outstanding debt, and Cravaack’s FEC report shows he finally paid his legal bills – with interest – as ordered by the mediator in the dispute.

Nolan for Congress closed out the year with outstanding debts of $53411.88 owed primarily to vendors, with some expense reimbursement due individuals and win bonuses owed to staffers. But in this case, the candidate (who is a native of the Cuyuna Range) is sharing the pain; the campaign also owes Nolan a sizable sum for reimbursement of campaign expenses.

Organized labor is the first to protest when a business shuts its doors and leaves workers holding the bag while executives escape unscathed. Decency demands there be no less of an outcry when a labor-endorsed candidate chooses to use union contributions to reimburse himself before paying his former employees wages that are rightfully due them. Labor needs to demonstrate that treating workers fairly applies to all or risk looking like hypocrites when protesting the next round of executive golden parachutes.

Are Labor Endorsed Candidates True Friends Of Organized Labor? Part 1

Iron Rangers learn early in life the importance of differentiating between friends who will happily accept your hospitality as long it suits their purposes and friends who will loyally back you to the death in a street fight. Faced with an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights that threatens the very lifeblood of the union movement, the ability to bargain collectively, the labor movement too has come to realize the biggest mistake unions can make is to confuse parlor friends with street friends, a point AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka drove home in 2011 when he declared that organized labor would no longer tolerate fair weather friends and that a candidate’s affiliation with the Democratic Party no longer guaranteed endorsement.

Every election cycle candidates flood into local union halls at screening time, each professing to be the true champion of working people in the race. The recent campaign for 8th district congress was no exception, and all 4 candidates – Jeff Anderson (D), Tarryl Clark (D), Chip Cravaack (R), Rick Nolan (D) – received endorsements and hefty contributions from labor unions. It has been said that the true test of one’s character is what one does when no one else is looking, and the same test can be applied to discern how committed these individuals are to the principles of organized labor.

Indeed, a good way for organized labor to differentiate parlor friends from street friends is to examine how candidates choose to spend the thousands of dollars they receive from labor unions after walking out of the union hall. FEC reports that are exposed to the light of day will often show exactly who chose to throw labor under the bus the minute they thought no one was looking. Labor-endorsed candidates who regularly patronize hotels that have been targets of labor disputes or built with non union labor are clearly fair weather friends rather than true champions, as are those who pay themselves before paying their employees long overdue and hard-earned wages. Posts in the coming days will reveal the Good, the Bad and the Ugly among labor-endorsed candidates, republican and democrat alike, in the 2012 race for 8th district congress.

Broader issues surrounding labor-endorsed candidates and union contributions merit discussion in future posts. Do unions have expectations as to how their members’ money is spent by candidates? Are unions comfortable that their endorsed candidates spend union contributions at Wal-Mart or Office Max rather than at local stores or more worker-friendly national chains? Should candidates be held accountable for how they spend union dollars?