Attitude Toward Unions Key Factor in Campaigns
Attitude toward unions key factor in campaigns
Carla Marinucci, San Francisco Chronicle Political Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
In a year in which California unemployment hovers at 12 percent and the state confronts the worst recession in generations, Art Pulaski is wondering: How did his people - working people - become the bad guys of the 2010 election?
"Working people are the heart and soul of this country," Pulaski, chief officer of the powerful California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, said Monday at a Labor Day picnic with 800 union members on Oakland's waterfront. But GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has "been a CEO, and she's laid people off and made millions. That's why she's not here, and why we're calling her Wall Street Whitman."
As the November election approaches, Pulaski's sentiment will be the mantra for Democrats. GOP candidates - from Whitman to U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina to national GOP leaders - have pointed to "big labor" as a key example of Democrats' fiscal irresponsibility.
Whitman, the former eBay CEO and Goldman Sachs board member, has railed at the labor groups backing her Democratic rival, Jerry Brown, including the California Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union, and the California Nurses Association. She calls them "Jerry Brown Inc.," and repeatedly attacks Brown as being "bought and paid for" by labor unions.
Whitman, a billionaire who has put a record-shattering $1o4 million of her own money into the governor's race to date, has said that she will "owe nobody anything" should she be elected to her first political post.
Brown, appearing in Oakland on Monday after premiering his first TV spots statewide against Whitman, looked fired up as he spoke before hundreds of union members at the traditional Alameda Labor Council picnic at Shoreline Park.
"This really is an important election," he told the firefighters, supermarket cashiers and service workers who assembled for barbecued chicken. "You have Whitman riding around in her gilded bubble ... (but) I care about this state. And that's why I vote in every election."
The event capped a Brown barnstorm across the state that began Friday and included labor events in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Fairfield. Whitman had just one event over the weekend, a stop at a GOP picnic in the Sierra foothills.
Warning of cutbacks
Brown's new ad warns Californians will have to "live within their means," which echoes a theme he used when he won the state's top job in the 1970s. He then rejected living in the governor's mansion. The former Oakland mayor also has said he will back "no new taxes without voter approval," and he has warned that unions will, like everyone else, "feel the pain" when it comes to trimming costs.
Brown told The Chronicle's editorial board Friday that he supports a two-tier pension plan, which could mean union members may have to contribute more to their plans or take pay cuts to ensure they are actuarially sound.
Brown's Oakland stop underscored the emerging themes for Democrats in the coming election in California, host to two of the most prominent contests in the nation.
Brown aims to portray himself as "a real person who has lived in this state all my life," one with the "knowledge and the know-how" to bring together warring factions in Sacramento - as opposed to what he and his campaign depicted as Whitman's consultant-created candidate owned by corporate and Wall Street interests.
Other Democratic candidates seconded the message, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, who dismissed her challenger, Republican Fiorina, as a wealthy former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who "fired 30,000" while she "took $100 million for herself."
The appeals to labor come at a challenging time for unions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 12 percent of American workers are union members - compared with the 1950s, when the percentage was almost three times higher. Today, the almost 8 million union members who are government-employed outnumber the 7.4 million in the private sector.
Brown 'bought and paid for'
Those public-sector union workers have become a political target as state and local governments struggle through fiscal crises. Whitman, for one, has called for laying off 40,000 in the state's workforce.
Andrea Jones Rivera, a spokeswoman for Whitman, said in a statement Monday that "Jerry Brown is bought and paid for by the government unions who stand directly opposed to the meaningful change we desperately need in Sacramento. Brown has outsourced his campaign to the government unions. If he's elected, what does their $14 million investment in his campaign get them in return, exactly what they want? California cannot afford a Jerry Brown third term."
Brian Seitchik, spokesman for the California Republican Party, said: "It should be no surprise that the Democrats spent Labor Day kissing the rings of their party's real boss: government unions."