Union Endorsements May Not Mean Much in the Voting Booth
Several unions have thrown their backing behind Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Kathleen Falk in the primary election. Despite the endorsements, the sentiment among rank-and-file members may be different from their union leaders.
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO and the Wisconsin Educators Association Council have thrown their support behind Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Falk, while the Iron Workers District Council of North Central States and Operating Engineers Local 317 are backing her chief rival, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in Tuesday's recall primary.
The union endorsements — and other — are a big deal to both candidates. After all, getting the backing of labor unions typically translates into more cash in the campaign coffers and more volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls.
In Falk's case, she's getting a big boost from a group called Wisconsin for Falk, a group backed by WEAC and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that has spent more than $4 million on ads on her behalf.
Barrett's labor endorsements also include the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and Transit Workers ATU Local 998.
Falk has a much longer list of union endorsements. In addition to the WEAC and AFSCME — the two largest public employee unions in Wisconsin — she is supported by SEIU, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, AFT, United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Locals 158 & 159, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin.
What will union members do on Tuesday?
Despite the big bucks and the formal endorsement of those unions, the question remains: Will the rank-and-file union members follow the lead of their unions in the voting booth in Tuesday's primary?
That’s a big maybe.
Despite her long list of union endorsements and the money being spent on her behalf, Falk trails Barrett by 17 percentage points in a poll released Wednesday.
Some union members Patch talked to have vowed complete solidarity with their union, while others have decided to vote for their own candidate.
Ron Clone, a teacher who lives in Oak Creek, said he didn’t feel pressured by WEAC to vote for Falk. He's voting for Barrett because of how close the race was between the Milwaukee mayor and Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2010.
“I also think he has more experience, both in Milwaukee County and at the federal level,” Clone said. “It does pay to have some good connections, good or bad.
"My choice has nothing to do with who WEAC tells us to vote for," said Clone. "I think both of them will support unions and, I hope, bring back collective bargaining.”
Racine teacher toes the union line
Allen Levie, of Racine, teaches in the Racine Unified School District. He says he’s 100 percent behind Falk.
“If my union is for Falk, I’m for Falk,” he said. “It’s that simple. But I’ve heard her and she’s for what we need. We want someone who is going to stand strong for working people. She’s made it very clear that she’s on our side. She’s for rolling back many of the cuts that Walker initiated.”
Amy Cerar, of West Allis, works at Harley-Davidson and is a member of the United Steel Workers Local 2209, which is part of the AFL-CIO.
Cerar is voting for Barrett because of his experience in Milwaukee County, she said.
“I know more about him than Falk,” she said. “Not that I wouldn’t back her, but I don’t know enough about her. In my union, there’s not a strong pressure to vote a certain way.”
Cerar say she’s voting for Barrett because he’s pro-collective bargaining and believes that people who want to be in a union should have that option.
“What Walker did to those people in the public unions was horrible,” she said, referring to the passage of Act 10, which eliminated bargaining rights for most public employees.
“Barrett stands behind those people and for people to have family sustaining jobs. And he believes in the 40-hour work week," Cerar added. "A lot of people don’t have health insurance right now and they are working two and three jobs, and they are killing themselves.”