Unions are going to play no small role in this year’s elections, and with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez facing a competitive challenge to his seat and control of Congress in the balance, the stakes couldn’t be much higher.
But, the state’s unions are hardly purely-partisan institutions, regardless of the fact that they more often align with Democrats than Republicans when it comes to ideology.
Some of the state’s most influential unions, including the Building and Construction Trades Council and the New Jersey AFL-CIO have endorsed congressional candidates on both sides of the isle, opening up the possibility of union members inadvertently voting against their organizations’ favored candidates.
“There’s always that chance that happens to a certain extent,” South Jersey Building Trades Council President Dan Cosner said following a Labor Day memorial for Peter McGuire, an early union leader who is credited with first proposing the idea of a national labor holiday. “But, I’d like to say I, as a labor leader, that’s my job to educate, and we do go on both sides of the fence, without a doubt.”
The Building Trades Council has endorsed several Republican House candidates in the state, including Reps. Tom MacArthur, Chris Smith and Leonard Lance. The AFL-CIO crossed party lines a bit less this year, with its only Republican endorsement so far going to Smith.
The rationale behind the endorsements most often falls on policy issues and a given politician’s record on labor issues more than it does on party lines.
While the unions don’t necessarily force their members to vote for union-endorsed candidates, they certainly prefer they do so.
“On a political perspective, it pains me to see members of organized labor voting for candidates who are working against their best interests, but I respect their opinions and respect their vote,” said South Jersey AFL-CIO political director Bob Schiavinato.
That doesn’t mean that the unions don’t try to push their members to vote for union-friendly candidates.
Schiavinato said his union tries to educate its members about the candidates.
“We do literature,” Schiavinato said. “We will send letters reminding them about the issues that candidates are voting in favor of. It’s like an advertising campaign, essentially tapping them on the shoulder reminding them that they’re here. The locals also do literature drive, and they will discuss these things at union meetings.”
Cosner said candidates also come up as a topic at his union’s meetings.
Past that, Cosner’s union plans to push a get out the vote drive following Labor Day weekend.
“It’s changed from just being construction guys out there doing work to really educating your members,” Cosner said.