When Carol Wood, At-Large Councilwoman and candidate for mayor, held a press conference last Wednesday in the plaza in front of City Hall to announce four union endorsements, the crowd was filled with volunteers holding blue balloons. And, she’s banking that the blue is going to translate to blue-collar support and carry her into the mayor’s office.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 665, Teamsters Local 580, Lansing Building Trades and Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Local 9 all endorsed Wood, snatching some endorsements that Mayor Virg Bernero got in the last mayoral election.
In the 2005 mayoral election, all but the IBEW endorsed Bernero against incumbent Tony Benavides.
Yet with Bernero fighting for the workingman all over cable news networks since the Big Three went for bailouts last November, it would seem he would have more endorsements from labor leaders.Mike Parker, business manager of Teamsters Local 580, said his union’s decision not to endorse Bernero boiled down to trust and the fact that the Michigan Employee Relations Commission ruled in October that the city committed an unfair labor practice by not notifying the Teamsters that it was hiring contract workers to fill vacant union positions. Also, Bernero did not submit his name for consideration.
While Bernero, by Parker’s recollection, sought the endorsement of the Teamsters "heavily" in 2005, his campaign didn’t even submit a letter for consideration this year.
"I don’t know what to think of the man anymore; perhaps he just didn’t care to seek the endorsement," Parker said.
Randy Hannan, Bernero’s spokesman, said that the mayor didn’t seek a Teamsters endorsement because he wasn’t invited.
But that doesn’t mean Wood got the endorsement by default. Parker called Wood a "friend of labor" who has listened to the concerns of unions over the past 10 years.
So far, the only neutral party is the Greater Lansing Labor Council, which voted Wednesday to not endorse candidates this year. (Bernero had the endorsement of the Council in 2005.)
While Council President Paul Hufnagel didn’t have anything to say about the decision, Parker, who is a Council officer, said it would have needed to come to a two-thirds majority vote to endorse either Wood or Bernero. He would not name which member groups weren’t sold on Wood, saying only that the motion to remain neutral passed.
The United Autoworkers Union, the union Bernero has called out by name in his national campaign to fight for blue collar workers, will begin interviewing candidates for endorsements Wednesday, June 10, with the final decision likely to be made by Thursday, June 12, UAW spokesman Bruce McAttee said. The UAW local unions will not make individual endorsements but will endorse through their regional affiliation.
Stan Shuck, a UAW city employee, said that the UAW probably would not endorse until after the primary to avoid “cutting their own throats.” The city UAW employees, he said, have been working under an old contract since its former contract expired in October.
Shuck said that there is “huge” anti- Bernero sentiment among UAW employees.
“Has he saved one job in Lansing? One job in the United States?” Shuck said.
Dale Abronowitz, who ran for mayor in 2005 and is a UAW city employee, said that he would find it hard to believe the UAW would endorse Bernero, especially because of the Teamsters ruling in October.
“I can’t imagine him getting the endorse ment of any union that knows what’s really going on,” Abronowitz said. Hannan would not directly address the importance of a UAW endorsement.
“I don’t think any endorsement makes or breaks a campaign. They’re helpful, but it really boils down to what voters think,” he said.
Other unions yet to endorse include the Fraternal Order of Police, which will wait until after the primary and the International Association of Firefighters.
The three union representatives at Wood’s press conference last week — Parker, Ray Michaels from the IBEW and Jim Bitzer from the Building Trades — consistently criticized Bernero’s "lip service."
"Talking doesn’t put food on the table," Michaels said.
McAttee said that the attention Bernero brought to the autoworkers doesn’t mean the endorsement is in the bag.
"We’ve been thrilled that the mayor has gone out and done those things for the autoworkers. But we’re not just autoworkers," he said.
Mark Grebner, of Practical Political Consulting, said that local labor endorsements are about what the unions are hoping to get in their next contract. He cautioned against reading the endorsements as though they were tea leaves.
"It’s an unfortunate fact about Lansing city government that labor negotiations are not conducted through the bargaining table but through (political action committees) during political campaigns," he said. He speculated that Bernero could be losing endorsements for any number of reasons — not making good on what he promised the unions four years ago, for example.
"They’re taking into account what Virg has given them, and what they think they can get from Carol," he said.