Maryland’s largest state employee union endorsed former U.S. and Maryland Labor Secretary Tom Perez (D) for governor on Wednesday.
AFSCME Council 3 and AFSCME Council 67, which made the announcement in Baltimore, represent more than 50,000 state, county, municipal, school board, and higher education employees across Maryland.
Perez, a former Montgomery County councilmember, was Maryland’s secretary of Labor from March 2007 to October 2009 and was U.S. secretary of Labor in the Obama administration from July 2013 to January 2017.
“Tom has always been on the side of Maryland working families,” Patrick Moran, the president of AFSCME Council 3 said, flanked by masked union members in green AFSCME T-shirts, some who were holding signs that said “AFSCME for Perez.”
Moran slammed Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who he said has shown a lack of support for state workers, especially during the pandemic.
Union leaders are pressing for part of a $2.5 billion budget surplus to go to underfunded and under-staffed state agencies.
“It is obscene, it is really sad, that there’s such a huge budget surplus during the time of a pandemic, when people are in such need,” Moran said. “We had to struggle at the onset of the pandemic for basic health and safety supplies — that’s wrong.”
“In times of crisis, the [Hogan] administration has turned their backs on the frontline employees. Now it’s time for leadership that we know…will stand with the employees, will stand with public service and create a better path for working families in Maryland,” he continued.
As the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, “we need a leader that will make protecting workers rights and families a top priority,” said Glen Middleton, the president of AFSCME Council 67, who called Perez a “friend” and “brother” of the union.
Once Perez came to the podium to speak, he took off his grey jacket and put on an AFSCME T-shirt, referring to union members standing around him as an “informal family.”
“We are together here in the house of labor,” he said over cheers of support.
Perez’s surrogate father was a member of a union, which “gave him the dignity that he was lacking” when the economy declined in Buffalo, New York, where Perez grew up, he said. “It was the union that fought for those rights — I learned that early on….and I’ve never forgotten that,” Perez said.
Perez told the crowd that in his administration they “will be respected, and don’t just trust my words — look at my actions over the course of my 35 years.”
Perez listed his past roles in government and said he learned that “the spine of every agency” is its employees. He said he wants to conduct an analysis of every state agency to understand if they have enough employees and resources.
An understaffed agency is a “formula for failure,” Perez said.
Much of Perez’s career was in the public sector. In addition to his political appointments, Perez clerked for a federal judge in Colorado, was Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s top adviser on civil rights and criminal justice issues, steered the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and served as deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights — and years later, as assistant attorney general — of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
Most recently, he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a term that ended after the 2020 election.
As governor, Perez said he would create a “labor management table” to partner with labor unions and tackle issues that will ensure collective bargaining rights are protected and that all workers are compensated fairly.
“When we have collective bargaining, we have collective prosperity,” he said.
Perez also said he envisions Maryland to be the “clean energy capital” of the nation, where offshore wind companies and other clean energy sectors will bring in new jobs to the state that will pay good union wages.
Under his governorship, Perez promised “jobs, justice and respect,” which union members chanted at the end of the rally.
Already this campaign cycle, Perez has touted endorsements from unions for communications and electrical workers, and from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Earlier this year, he resigned from Venable, a law firm criticized by progressives for being anti-union, after he learned that the firm would represent Hogan in his plans to cut federal unemployment insurance benefits early, describing that position as “inconsistent with my values and the future I want to build for Maryland.”
In February, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot garnered the endorsement of Mid-Atlantic Region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), which represents more than 3,000 workers in Maryland and about 40,000 in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Franchot on Wednesday announced his pick for running mate: Prince George’s County Councilmember Monique Anderson-Walker (D).
The other Democratic hopefuls in the governor’s race are former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, nonprofit executive Jon Baron, 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, and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum.
The 2022 primary is June 28.