Two major labor groups offered endorsements to Assembly incumbents even though they voted against them on core issues like the $15-per-hour minimum wage and the gas tax.
The New Jersey AFL-CIO is backing three Democrats — Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle), Bruce Land (D-Vineland), Matthew Milam (D-Vineland – and Republican Sean Kean (R-Wall) for re-election despite their opposition to increasing the minimum wage.
At the same time, the AFL-CIO is supporting Democratic challengers seeking to oust six Republicans who also voted against the minimum wage hike in legislative districts that are viewed as potentially competitive in the November mid-term elections.
To be clear, the minimum wage and the gas tax are not the only issues unions consider in a process where long-term relationships matter and political realities are considered.
The AFL-CIO is a prestigious endorsement but doesn’t come with the money or bodies of their member-unions. Support from the building trades comes has more power: money, votes and bodies.
Still, many individual unions make their own endorsements in legislative races. The New Jersey Education Association, the Communications Workers of America, the Operating Engineers, and the Carpenters, for example, will make their decisions on a district-by-district basis.
In some places, one issue will determine where support comes from. Watch for Mike Maloney of the Pipe Trades union to put his resources behind only those candidates who support the Penn East Pipeline.
The State Building and Construction Trades Council also endorsed Andrzejczak for Senate and Land for Assembly in the 1st district, even though they cast votes against the gas tax.
Four other Democratic legislators were able to oppose the gas tax and still snag the building trades endorsements: Vincent Mazzeo (D-Northfield), Joann Downey (D-Freehold), and Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune).
All four comes from districts where Republicans are competitive.
The building trades council also endorsed four Republican lawmakers in potentially competitive races: Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) and Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale).
Bramnick and Munoz voted for the gas tax; Bucco and Schepisi voted no. All four opposed raising the minimum wage.
There are some disagreements on endorsements between the building trades council and the AFL-CIO.
In the 21st district, the AFL-CIO endorsed Demcorats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman in their bids to unseat Bramnick and Munoz. They endorsed Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger in the 25th against Bucco and his running mate, Brian Bergen. In district 39, Democrats John Birkner and Gerald Falotico against Schepisi and incumbent Robert Auth (R-Old Tappan).
Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) also supported the gas tax and won the building trades endorsement. She represents a district that has not elected a Democratic legislator since 1973 but faces an aggressive Democratic challenge.
The AFL-CIO endorsed Laura Fortgang and Christine Clarke in the 26th district against DeCroce and Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains). The building trades did not endorse any Democrat against Webber, a voluble opponent of the gas tax.
Kean also voted against the gas tax but still captured the building trades endorsement. His 30th district seat is viewed as safe Republican, as are two other GOP legislators running with building trades support: Ronald Dancer (R-Plumsted) and Rob Clifton (R-Matawan).
In the 30th, the AFL-CIO endorsed only Kean, not taking sides for the seat held by Ned Thomson (R-Wall).
Dancer and Clifton also voted against the $15 minimum wage increase.
One Democrat in a swing district who voted against the gas tax, Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), did not get a building trades endorsement. Zwicker also opposes the pipeline and wasn’t with the building trades on the Transportation Trust Fund.
The umbrella union group is staying out of the 16th district race completely. Zwicker and freshman Roy Freiman were endorsed for re-election by the AFL-IO.
In the hotly contested 8th district, both the AFL-CIO and the Building and Construction Trades Council endorsed Democrats Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale. Joe Howarth (R-Evesham) lost his bid for renomination in the GOP primary; Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) was not in the legislature for the gas tax vote and opposed the minimum wage.
The AFL-CIO backed Democratic challengers in districts 9, 10 and 13, where GOP lawmakers voted against the gas tax and the minimum wage increase. The building trades union declined to endorse anyone for those six seats.
In the 24th district, the Building and Construction Trades Council endorsed freshman Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Wantage), who served as New Jersey Commissioner of Labor under Gov. Chris Christie. The AFL-CIO is staying out of the Sussex-based district completely, choosing not to suggest unseating Wirths or incumbent Parker Space (R-Wantage).