As Labor Day Approaches, Jealous and Hogan Look for the Union Label

If Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) seems to have some extra pep in his step as he takes part in Labor Day parades in Kensington and Gaithersburg this weekend, there’s ample reason.

In addition to his well-publicized fundraising lead, and his endorsements from notable Democrats, Hogan has attracted more support from organized labor than any GOP candidate for governor in recent memory. His campaign has skillfully rolled out a series of endorsements from more than a dozen unions representing firefighters, police officers, trades people and road-and-bridge workers, giving the impression that Hogan is a strong advocate for rank-and-file labor.

“It really is unusual in the modern era,” said political analyst Todd Eberly. “They are sending a message to independent voters who don’t like [President] Trump, and to Democrats who want to send a message to Trump, that this is not ‘Larry Hogan from the party of Trump.’ This is ‘Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland — and it’s safe to vote for me.’” 

Dennis L. Martire, LiUNA vice president: Hogan’s road plan ‘is music to our ears.’ LiUNA photo

But as Labor Day weekend signals the unofficial start of the fall campaign, Democrats and the unions backing challenger Benjamin T. Jealous are pushing back hard against this carefully-crafted narrative from the incumbent.

“It’s much ado about very little,” said Mark McLaurin, political director for the Service Employees Union Local 500. “The largest unions in this state are all solidly behind Ben.” McLaurin said the “Big 4” unions — the United Food and Commercial Workers, Service Employees International Union, Maryland State Education Association, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — “do literally 95 percent of the political work in this state on behalf of organized labor. And those four unions are in lockstep in working together to get this governor out of office.”

McLaurin said union and progressive organizers have an ambitious agenda — one that includes a $15-an-hour minimum wage, paid family leave, worker protections in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision curtailing unions’ ability to collect dues, and more — that isn’t likely to fare well if Hogan gets a second term.

“There are a whole host of bottled-up pieces of legislation that we are confident we can get through the legislature but that we’re not as sure we can override a veto that would be expected from this governor.”

While it may not be unsurprising that Hogan would win the support of firefighters, the Fraternal Order of Police and other public safety unions, the decision of LiUNA — the Laborers International Union of North America — to back the incumbent was more of a coup. The union endorsed state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a major Hogan critic, in the Democratic primary.

Four years ago, LiUNA not only backed Hogan’s opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), but it loaned his campaign $500,000 in the final days of the election. LiUNA Vice President Dennis L. Martire said the union liked Hogan’s ambitious plan to expand the state’s transportation network.

“We build roads, bridges, light rail systems, things like that. And if you look at his plan to extend HOT lanes from Virginia all the way around the [Capital] Beltway, that is like music to our ears, because that puts our people to work,” he said.

Hogan said he “could not be prouder” to win the union’s backing. “During my first term, our administration has made rebuilding Maryland’s crumbling infrastructure and making our state a more affordable place to live, work, and retire top priorities,” he said. “I eagerly look forward to working with LiUNA over the next four years as we keep changing Maryland for the better.”

While some unions look for the candidate most likely to advance their causes, Eberly, who teaches political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said there’s often an element of practicality as well.

“They’re looking at the same dynamic as everyone else,” he said, a reference to the polls showing Hogan with a commanding lead. “They’d much rather be on his good side than his bad side, so they’d go with him. He’s likely to come out on top.”

Not lost an anyone is the role organized labor played in Jealous’ surprisingly large win in the Democratic primary, which he won by more than 10 points over his nearest competitor. The unions already backing Jealous — and those like AFSCME, whose endorsement may come sooner than later — are preparing to replicate their primary formula in the general election, with vigorous efforts to canvass their members, phone banking, door knocking, and other forms of repeated engagement.

“The labor unions that support this campaign have devoted over a million dollars and greatly enhanced our field program to push us to victory in June,” said Travis Tazelaar, Jealous’ campaign manager. “We continue to welcome the support of several key labor groups in the coming weeks and know that their support not only gives us key strategic advantages but reflects the diversity and breadth of our state. Not something that could be said of the coalition that Larry Hogan is attempting to build.”

And of course, there are the independent expenditures — legally separate from the Jealous campaign but sounding very similar themes — that will likely generate hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of dollars, worth of advocacy for the challenger.

“I think you’re going to see an unprecedented field campaign across this state,” said McLaurin, who’s been organizing for Maryland unions for 16 years. “I have never seen the kind of field operation that’s being marshaled for Ben Jealous. I think it’s really going to surprise a lot of folks. We will be outspent, there’s no question about that. But it’s not nearly as dire as the numbers would suggest.”

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