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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 .

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.”

Luke May 06, 2012 at 09:28 PM
@Trurh Be Hard Ummm no. Compare a teacher to a grad in accounting or nursing. They will start in the low 30's and eventually work their way up the scale, just like teachers. Perhaps the accounting grad has a potentially higher ceiling, but not so much for the nurse. All these fields require continuous education. I understand that teacher benefits have changed, so comparisons are difficult. However, prior to Act 10 a lot teachers were getting guaranteed retirement benefits as well as healthcare after retirement, all for free (or with nominal contribution). In the private sector, there is no such thing as healthcare that is provided by a past employer. And if you want to get a guaranteed retirement benefit, your only choice in the private sector is probably going to be something like an annuity that has fees and next to no return, requiring you to pay 30% of your gross income to equal what teachers were receiving for free. So what, exactly, is your complaint?
Luke May 06, 2012 at 09:35 PM
I forgot to mention that in the private sector, required contributions to healthcare are typically 20% and retirement is 95-100%. Compare that to what teachers are asked to contribute.
Speak Your Onions! May 06, 2012 at 09:51 PM
---The Anti--- We all await Brens un-ending support for the US Senate candidate, of all those in the race, that has the most extensive and verifiable middle of the road track record . Our former Governor Tommy Thompson.
Mary May 06, 2012 at 09:59 PM
after listening to the debates Neither Barrett or Falk are smart choices' I am an independant voter and I must say neither of them would be my choice They both were awfull. I learned nothing from those two.
Luke May 06, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I'm also an independent. Barrett is better than Falk by a long shot. Barrett is, however, and empty suit. I will vote for anyone who has better solutions than Walker. There is no one that has better solutions that Walker. In addition, Walker does what he says he will do.

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