The AFL-CIO officially gave an endorsement nod to U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge this week at their state convention in Altoona. That followed AFSCME’s formal backing last week. It’s a notable change in labor’s disposition to the former Lt. Governor, and a sign of continuing unity around Judge in a race Democrats see as a potential pick-up opportunity.
It didn’t always use to be this way. Iowa’s labor community has never forgotten – nor quite forgiven – Judge’s involvement in former Governor Chet Culver’s veto of the collective bargaining bill in 2008. Both AFSCME and the AFL-CIO endorsed and actively supported Rob Hogg in the Democratic primary.
But when it comes to this year’s Senate matchup, Iowa’s labor leadership is rallying around the woman they held partially accountable for their biggest legislative disappointment of the last decade.
“I think Lt. Governor Judge has not always seen eye to eye with us on every issue, but when compared to the wholesale attacks that Senator Grassley has perpetrated upon the labor movement, the disagreements with Lt. Governor Judge pale by comparison,” said Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa AFL-CIO.
Despite what issues they had in the past, most in labor see Judge as a good vote on their current top national issues. And Judge made absolutely clear in her speech to the AFL-CIO state convention on Friday – an appearance that was not in the schedule before the endorsement – that she would fight for their priorities.
“I will be there fighting for workers’ rights, I’ll be there fighting to raise that minimum wage – we need to raise that to $15/hour nationally – and we need to stop pussyfooting around about it, and get it done nationally,” Judge told the crowd of about 200 union members. “I want you to know that the Trans Pacific Trade agreement is not good legislation. It is, in fact, legislation that will not protect your rights, the rights of workers across this country. It will not protect the environment and it does not protect our national economy. Therefore, I will be very clear with you: I will not support this legislation, I will not vote for this when I am in the United States Senate in its current form.”
Not everyone was ready to jump on board, however. After Judge finished her speech and walked out of the ballroom, a labor member in the back of the room went to a microphone to request a Q&A session from Judge. Charlie Wishman rushed out the door to flag Judge down, who then returned to the podium.
“Yesterday this body voted to endorse you. It goes without saying, not everyone was in favor of that endorsement,” the man told Judge. “If you could give us a clarification, maybe we might we swayed. In particular, I’d like to ask you about your lack of support for the collective bargaining bill in 2008 … Can you clarify for us why the veto came about?”
“We were trying to find a way that we could make that bill something that everyone was comfortable with,” Judge responded. “Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the changes could not be made to the bill. And I regret that. I expressed that to your leadership, and I certainly do regret that those things that have happened in the past. I just want to remind you that there are two people going to run for the Senate seat. The other one is Chuck Grassley. Now you know where he is on the issues – if you don’t, please look. He is not with you. He has never been with you. And he will not support the issues that are important to you. I have given you my assurance that I will.”
AFSCME’s Marcia Nichols then stood up to thank Judge specifically on her work back in the State Senate when Judge supported a labor bill regarding a Steelworkers strike.
The vast majority of the room gave Judge standing ovations as she was introduced and finished, so the lingering displeasure may be limited to a handful of holdouts. And as she alluded to in her response, Judge is running against a Senator very unpopular in the labor movement, making it that much easier for them to unify behind her.
“The obstructionism our current senator has displayed is unacceptable,” Sagar later told Starting Line. “There’s an old saying about justice delayed is justice denied, and clearly Senator Grassley is denying justice to many, many Americans.”
Sagar also explained that their endorsement will allow them to communicate often to their 240,000 household members across Iowa about Judge’s positions. Through mail, door-to-door and phone banking programs, they hope to communicate multiple times with their members to educate them about the race. If they’re successful, a candidate with a checkered past with unions might get the support she needs to knock off one of Iowa labor’s biggest foes in Grassley.
by Pat Rynard