Organized labor is devoting millions of dollars and countless man-hours to re-elect Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat considered an important ally of unions despite a 2011 clash with unionized state employees in which he threatened massive layoffs during a budget impasse.
Malloy, who is in a tight race against Republican businessman Tom Foley, is reaping benefits as one of the few governors to show outspoken support for issues dear to unions, including collective bargaining rights, paid sick leave and minimum wage increases.
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As of last week, national unions based in Washington, D.C., had contributed at least $1.9 million to an independent expenditure political action committee supporting Malloy that's called Connecticut Forward, according to a review of reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Many of those same unions have also contributed tens of thousands to the Connecticut Working Families Party's PAC, which has endorsed Malloy for a second term.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is on pace to dump $1 million into Connecticut Forward. Given what organized labor considers major assaults on workers' collective bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said Malloy is an important ally nationally.
"We've had our differences, but we worked those differences out because we have a seat at the table. He treats us with respect," Saunders said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Saunders said his union is active in elections across the country, but it considers Malloy and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn the top two incumbent Democrats it needs to protect.
On Tuesday, Richard Trumka, the national president of the AFL-CIO labor organization, is scheduled to campaign in Hartford for Malloy. AFL-CIO-member unions represent over 200,000 people in Connecticut.
Unions that oppose Foley have seized on a statement he made last year when he told a newspaper that Connecticut was in need of a "Wisconsin moment."
The Hartford Courant reported that Foley, referring to the Republican takeover of the Democrat-controlled Wisconsin legislature and governorship, said, "I keep talking about 'When is the Wisconsin moment going to come to Connecticut?" Democrats in Connecticut now control the state's General Assembly, governor's office, constitutional offices and all U.S. House and Senate seats — a situation that Foley says is unhealthy for Connecticut.
Unions claim the comment is a sign that Foley wants to change workers' rights, in line with the 2011 Wisconsin law pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that limits public workers to bargaining only over base wage increases no greater than inflation. Foley adamantly denies that and says he has no plans to roll back collective bargaining rights.
"This is what unions and Democrats do. They try and drive a wedge issue. The unions are trying to defend Democrats as governor. I don't know because I think, long-term, state employees probably will get a better deal from Republicans than they would from Democrats," he said. "I think they're wasting their money because they don't have a candidate here who has done a good enough job to warrant re-election."
While some state employees may remain bitter over the 2011 battle with Malloy, internal polling conducted this year gave Malloy the edge over Foley. Connecticut AFSCME leaders have been pointing out to their members that he supported a higher minimum wage, additional payments to the state's pension fund and a reduction in state retiree health care liabilities. For ASCME's members who work for cities and towns, the union has pointed out how Malloy increased state aid to municipalities.
"There's a clear picture of a guy who has worked very hard to make things better for everyday working people," said Larry Dorman, a spokesman for Connecticut AFSCME.