High unemployment rates and other economic woes continue to haunt Washington, D.C. and Maryland voters as the Sept. 14 primary elections draw near. Under these conditions the endorsements of one of the labor movement’s most prominent organizations could end up playing a wild card role in some of the region’s most important and hotly-contested races.

“The members of the union don’t always share the same politics, but what all the studies show is when the union endorses a candidate, members are much more likely to vote for the union’s preferred candidate,” said David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the D.C.-based Center for American Progress, a self-described “progressive” policy organization.

Madland said the endorsements of the AFL-CIO – an organization of labor unions formally known as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations – tend to translate into at least 60 percent of the vote among members. The AFL-CIO endorsements also influence other members of union households.

“It’s by no means a guarantee or slam dunk for 100 percent, but it’s better than what would happen without (the endorsements),” Madland said. “The bottom line is an endorsement from the labor movement can help. It certainly doesn’t hurt. But it’s not definitive.”

Fred Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, said his 350,000-member organization endorsed candidates based on whether their voting records and political philosophy were aligned with the interests of working families, or perhaps more appropriately as of late, those who are out-of-work. “The most important thing right now is jobs,” Mason said.

In the Maryland gubernatorial race, he said, the labor movement’s interests dictated lending its support to incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley over his predecessor and hopeful comeback contender, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Mason credited O’Malley with signing a living wage bill that makes the statewide living wage higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and criticized Ehlich for having vetoed the law during his administration.

“Another contrast is former Gov. Ehrlich says that Maryland’s labor costs are too high,” Mason said. “What that means, no matter how you cut it, is he is saying workers are making too much money and whatever benefits they are getting are too good.”

Mason also credited O’Malley with spurring growth in Maryland’s biotech industry, staving off massive layoffs and cutbacks in public services, and keeping the unemployment rate consistently below the national average, a fact borne out by statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.6 percent as of June, versus 7.4 percent for Maryland.

“That’s quite an accomplishment,” Mason said.
Mason drew similar contrasts between incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and the AFL-CIO’s favored D.C. mayoral candidate, D.C. council chairman Vincent Gray.

“Fenty has not been good in terms of openness of dialogue,” Mason said. “It’s as if he was not interested in maintaining or fostering a good working relationship with his employees, the workers, and their representatives in the union or the community at large, particularly those communities that were at the lower level of the economic ladder.”

The AFL-CIO’s endorsements are based on two-thirds majority of the votes cast within the organization. “That’s a high threshold,” said Madland, explaining why an AFL-CIO endorsement should not be ignored.

Mason said while the organization does not make political contributions, local AFL-CIO chapters are free to donate to candidates as they see fit. He said members of the AFL-CIO are recruited to interact with other members about candidates.

Madland says such “people power” within the AFL-CIO is perhaps the most important factor of the labor organization in an election. “These are active members who go and knock on doors, talk to their neighbors and go out and vote themselves,” Madland said.

Other important endorsements from the AFL-CIO include:
* Barbara A. Mikulski for the U.S. Senate from Maryland;
* Phil Mendelson for the At Large District of Columbia Council Seat; and
* Incumbents for all the Maryland and District of Columbia Seats in the House of Representatives except Maryland District 6.

Please see AFRO.com for the full list of AFL-CIO endorsements.


Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Special to the AFRO