In advance of Labor Day, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez received his largest endorsement to date from chapters of four labor unions representing over 40,000 Maryland households on Wednesday.
“The last year and a half has really cast a bright light on the nature of work in our country and the critical importance of all of the heroic workers who stepped up and did so much for so many people,” Perez said, flanked by union members at a press event Wednesday in United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400’s building in Prince George’s County.
“Some are deemed as essential over these last 18 months…but you have always been indispensable to me, to our country and to our state,” he continued.
Since the pandemic began, workers have been given “fancy titles,” but Perez knew that working families were “heroes and essential” long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, said Mark Federici, the president of UFCW Local 400, which represents 35,000 members working in retail food, health care and food processing in Maryland and surrounding states.
The other unions endorsing Perez were Communications Workers of America (CWA) MD/DC State Council, CWA Local 2336, CWA Local 2108, CWA Local 2107, CWA Local 2106, CWA Local 2105, CWA Local 2100, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, UFCW Local 27, UFCW Local 1994, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 70 and IBEW Local 410.
As the U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Obama, Perez was key in resolving a dispute between Verizon Communications and its unions that kept almost 40,000 workers off the job and without health care for more than a month in 2016.
“Tom called the unions and the head of Verizon to D.C. and told them no one’s leaving until the strike is settled,” said Shannon Opfer, the president of CWA MD/DC State Council. The two sides eventually agreed on a four-year contract.
During the press event, Perez and union leaders highlighted other successes during his career. While Perez was Maryland’s Labor Secretary under Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), he helped implement the country’s first statewide living wage law — which requires government contractors to pay their employees more than the minimum wage.
And when Perez was on the Montgomery County Council before that, he supported a campaign by employees of Comcast Cable Communications to form a union in 2003. Perez and another council member at the time were subpoenaed by the company attorneys a year later.
Earlier this year, Perez resigned from the Venable law firm after he learned that the firm would represent Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in his plans to cut federal unemployment insurance benefits early, describing Hogan’s position as “inconsistent with my values and the future I want to build for Maryland.”
Perez is running in a crowded field of Democratic candidates that include nonprofit executive Jon Baron, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, former state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, former Obama administration official Ashwani K. Jain, former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., author and former anti-poverty CEO Wes Moore, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum.
On Wednesday, Perez talked about reinvigorating the labor movement, claiming that income inequality increases when labor union membership decreases.
“All across this country, I’ve seen first hand…that when unions succeed, the middle class succeeds,” Perez said. “And I can tell you this — when the union succeeds, Maryland succeeds.”
Under his governorship, Perez promised that labor unions would have a seat at the table and that the labor movement would be “stronger than ever” in Maryland.
“When we have collective bargaining, we have collective prosperity,” he said.
Perez is expected to be the favorite of many labor unions in the Democratic primary —though not all of them — and this is not the first major union endorsement in the gubernatorial cycle. Back in February, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), which mainly represents construction workers, endorsed Franchot.
That endorsement was viewed partly as a push to get Franchot to support a Project Labor Agreement ― when the government awards contracts for public construction projects exclusively to unionized firms ― as part of the state’s plan to build a new American Legion Bridge and widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.
Other major unions in the state, including the powerful Maryland State Education Association, have not issued endorsements yet this election cycle.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.