The Union Label

Unions back McAuliffe in Va. governor race

Terry McAuliffe / AP
April 22, 2013

Unions are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect Democrat Terry McAuliffe as Virginia governor in the hopes he will roll back secret ballot protections during union elections and steer lucrative contracts to labor unions, observers say.

According to McAuliffe’s most recent campaign filing, unions have donated $562,030 to his campaign in direct and in-kind contributions.

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the Communications Workers of America, and others have chipped in.

McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, warned on Thursday that McAuliffe may look to repeal recently passed measures that preserve ballot secrecy in union elections and keep members’ personal information private.

Unions "are talking about how they want McAuliffe to ‘repair some of the things’ Republicans have done," said campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix in a news release.

"Do they mean ending Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state?" Nix asked in the release. "Or repealing the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which guarantees the right to vote by secret ballot? Or the KEEP Secure Act that prevents third party groups from obtaining workers’ personal information?"

The latter two pieces of legislation were authored by Virginia Republican state delegate Barbara Comstock, who said in an interview she is concerned McAuliife would advance union interests in Richmond.

"I definitely see a risk" to Virginia’s right-to-work status under McAuliffe, Comstock said.  "Democrats pay lip service to that" but they "always vote in lock step with the unions," she added.

"It doesn’t matter whether it’s good policy, they do what the unions want," Comstock said of her Democratic colleagues in the Virginia legislature. "There’s no reason to think that [McAuliffe] has some different view than they do."

Comstock expressed concern about potential McAuliffe opposition to the KEEP Secure Act, which prevents unions from accessing workers’ personal information, and the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which aims to preserve workplace democracy. Unions opposed both measures, raising concerns their favored candidate might as well.

"That’s how [Virginia Democrats] view it—‘I’m here to help my union guys get jobs,’" Comstock said.

Other observers are less convinced McAuliffe would work to advance unions’ interests on the legislative front.

"Labor is supporting McAuliffe because union groups view him as the candidate who is unlikely to attempt to further roll back labor-preferred laws and policies," said Geoff Skelley, a spokesman for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

But "it seems unlikely that he would focus too much attention on major labor initiatives," Skelley said, given Republican control of the state legislature.

There are union-supportive measures the governor can take that don’t involve legislation, Skelley noted.

"In areas where the executive has jurisdiction, unions anticipate McAuliffe would be friendlier to their interests than Cuccinelli would be," he said. "Appointments and resolving contract disputes would be two areas where McAuliffe could exert his gubernatorial power to side with labor."

The Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA), which has contributed $25,000 to McAuliffe’s campaign, has been fighting to enact a project labor agreement, which would give preference to contractors that use union labor, for construction work on the Dulles rail corridor.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell clashed with the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA), which oversees the Dulles rail project, when he called for MWAA board member Dennis Martire to step down due to his ties to the LiUNA, which represented workers on the first phase of the project.

The McAuliffe campaign did not respond to a request for comment.