Unions in politics: quid pro quo?

Unions and politicians are usually tied closely together come election time. The Democrats have the labor unions and the Republicans have the public safety unions- at least in Dayton. Weigh this out- the Dems get a lot more union “juice” because  AFSCME covers a lot more workers than either the IAFF (firefighters) or the FOP (police).

That “juice” equals foot soldiers in the war (election) – with union halls being used for staging areas for canvassing, phone banks, and with an ample supply of “organized” labor- as in – people to go door-to-door. In Dayton, this is the machine that makes the Democratic party strong. The Republicans have nothing to match it, either in organization, or in manpower. If you look at the proportion of “workers” to “members” in the Montgomery County Democratic Party- you will find a disproportionate number of union members in local races. While the Democratic Party speaks as the voice of the Democratic Party, it really isn’t that representative of the Democratic voter- with almost half the precinct chairs empty and meetings that are sparsely attended. The endorsement of candidates is done by a screening committee that is a handpicked subset of the half of the precinct chairs that are filled. If you look at the list- note the number filled by either “Labor” or “Ritchie” (as in Tom Ritchie, former vice chair of the party, AFSCME, and on the Board of Elections).

The arrangement has worked for years. Dems get elected, Union people get patronage jobs  and everybody’s happy– until a politician is forced to ask the union for something like a pay cut because of tough financial times. The extended honeymoon just had its first big fight- and somehow the press got wind of it:

There is apparent dissent within area union leadership over support of the Montgomery County Democratic Party and its major fundraiser, according to a letter from Wesley Wells, executive director of the Dayton, Miami Valley AFL-CIO Regional Labor Council.

“The question is, do we disengage our support of the Montgomery County Democratic Party which could affect our labor representatives on the Executive and Screening Committees or do we stand our ground and fight for change?” Wells wrote in the letter to officers and executive board members.

At a February council meeting, a debate over supporting the Democrats’ Frolic for Funds on March 17 at the Convention Center ended with no resolution to buy tickets. The labor council typically buys $1,000 to $2,000 in tickets to the event, said Wells. He’s asking that the executive board authorize him to donate $500 to the fundraiser…

On Tuesday, March 10, Wells declined to explain the problem, except to say that the letter was an internal communication that wasn’t to be made public.

Mark Owens, chairman of the county party, said he’s spoken to Wells and believes the issue is mostly related to money…

But Owens said some labor union members also are not happy with Dayton city leaders, including Mayor Rhine McLin, whom the party endorsed for re-election.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are upset over job cuts and requests for pay cuts by the city, but the union has not decided against supporting Democrats, said Marcia Knox, regional director of AFSCME Ohio Council 8 and a member of executive committees of the local party and the labor council.

via Union leaders debate support of Montgomery County Democratic Party.

It’s probably too early to say that McLin won’t end up with support of the unions, but, according to WDTN- she’s also losing support from Dayton’s “religious community” at the same time. This has traditionally been another base for her.

“We are not comfortable with what’s happening in our city,” said Rev. Raleigh Trammell, SCLC President. “How it’s going down, loss of employment, foreclosures, crime, and it seems to be getting worse and worse.”

Dayton’s crime rate has steadily dropped the past three years, according to statistics posted to the city’s web site, but the obvious drop in the economy has brought attention to the problem, Trammell said.

“We’ve lost jobs, and when people have lost jobs, people are going to take the law into their own hands to make up the difference,” Trammell said. “There are too many houses that are boarded up in our community.”

The group also brought up issues with the city’s foundation, our schools.

“We need to address our educational system, our whole economic system,” Trammell said.

The group is not pointing the blame solely at the mayor, and there’s no single reason why the group is pulling its support, Trammell said.

“We just need new leadership, new directions and new commitments,” said Trammell.

Another issue that is bothering the religious community is that both McLin and Whaley voted for the gay rights ordinance, which Dean Lovelace voted against and Joey Williams abstained on. This is a major sticking point from a conversation I held with the Rev. Donovan Larkins, chair of the Ohio SCLC.

So it comes down to money, religion and politics, the three things you aren’t supposed to talk about at a cocktail party.

When evaluating candidates unions and religious groups have their own agendas and special interests, which may, or may not be in the best interest of the city at large. Considering the unions have had representation at a much higher proportion than their relative numbers of citizens in Dayton for as long as I’ve been around, the question could be asked: are they a part of the problem or the solution?

At no point in any screening I’ve done with  these groups have candidates been asked about their vision, ideas, or ways to move the city forward. It’s been about how well you fit the special interest group’s objectives and if you’ll do the special interest group’s  work once elected– and rarely about what’s best for the city and all citizens.

The true test of McLin’s leadership will be if she takes these “kiss of death” notices and turns them into a positive or not. Not being endorsed by these subsets of the voting public could actually be a badge of honor if , she puts the needs of the general population in front of these special interest groups- a gutsy move, by someone who isn’t given much credit by most.

By writing this, I’m not endorsing her by any means, but, I do hope for Dayton’s benefit, that she meets these challenges by putting all citizens’ needs first.

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