The selection of Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman to be vice president on the Democratic ticket is causing some discomfort to Maryland’s union members, but not enough that they are considering the alternative.
“I would have liked the Democrats to have picked someone who was on the AFL-CIO’s side on trade,” said Cargie Vaughn, president of the Nation’s Capital/Southern Maryland American Postal Workers Union. “But, it’s not a big enough issue to make me change my vote.”
And Bettye Ridgley, a member of the United Steelworkers of America and a Maryland delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said she is troubled by trade positions of Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“I am not completely happy with free trade with China,” said Ridgley. She called support of Gore “a tradeoff sometimes. We are not going to always see right down the line on all issues, but his policies are closer to mine than the other man is running.”
Ridgley’s and Vaughn’s reactions to the presidential race are typical of labor union members in Maryland, said Brad Coker, managing director of the Mason-Dixon polling firm.
“Whether they are 80 percent or 100 percent for Gore, they will still support him,” said Coker. “The key issue is will [union] leaders actively tell their members to work for Gore or are they just giving tacit endorsements.”
Vaughn said he is recruiting his members for get-out-the-vote drives. Yet, his is a relatively small union in Maryland.
Coker said that the largest and most powerful unions in Maryland are the government employees’ and the teachers’ unions. He said their influence, above that of industrial labor unions in the state, is a plus for Gore in Maryland.
Coker said the industrial unions are more likely to chafe with the Democratic ticket over trade issues: Gore and Lieberman are at odds with labor’s positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement and permanent normal trading status with China.
Pollster Carol Arscott said there is a possibility that local industrial unions in economically depressed areas of the country might not just stop working for Gore, but might actually defect to Green Party nominee Ralph Nader. But she said teachers’ unions likely “will take a deep breath and carry on” with the Democrats, despite chafing over Lieberman’s support for school vouchers.
“I don’t know where the ticket is going on school vouchers and I am not sure if they [Gore and Lieberman] know,” said Arscott. As vice president, Lieberman cut force the issue on the table or he could “submerge his views,” she said.
Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said that that uncertainty should not suggest teachers’ unions are considering Bush, who she said would use the presidency to “tear public education asunder.”
Foerster said some members might be concerned by Lieberman’s selection, but they will think back to the National Education Association convention “when we heard, in no uncertain terms, Gore’s commitment to public education.”
The concern among teachers seems great compared to the satisfaction that government employee unions are expressing with the Gore/Lieberman ticket.
Bobby Hamage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called the selection of Lieberman “great news for the working and middle-class Americans who make up the federal work force.”
“The senator has been a staunch supporter of federal employees and their families, on issues large and small,” Hamage said in the statement, citing Lieberman’s advocacy of safe workplaces and government job stability.
The support of AFGE and the teacher’s unions “could have an effect in Maryland,” said Coker, “but they are not going to be that critical.”