The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has entered the Republican presidential race, and the public-employee union could be a serious contender.
AFSCME, which has been a key player in the struggle to defend state and local workers against the anti-union juggernaut launched by newly elected Republican governors and legislators, has long been at odds with Newt Gingrich. When the former House Speaker decided that the fundamental challenge facing the American economic system was the persistence of child-labor laws, AFSCME pushed back with a muscular campaign that asked: “Really, Newt?”
Challenging the speaker’s proposal that school janitors be replaced with “poor children,” AFSCME launched a national campaign that got thousands of Americans to sign a statement that said:
The US outlawed child labor because it denied children the chance at a real education and allowed employers to exploit children—and because children were often injured or killed on the job. That’s why labor unions fought to pass laws outlawing child labor and protecting all workers.
And the people you want to fire and replace with kids? A lot of them are parents. That job puts a roof over kids’ heads, food on the table, and provides them with health care and the chance to get an education. That job is the only thing between a kid and poverty. Firing someone’s mom and hiring the kid for less money isn’t exactly the “process of rising.” It is, in fact, the process of falling. It is the process of exploiting and destroying working families.
The fact that you don’t get that makes you not only out of touch, but utterly unqualified to serve in any elected position, let alone President of the United States. Newt, “You’re Fired!”
But it turned out that Gingrich’s anti-labor zealotry did not make him an outlier in the Republican race. If anything, the man with whom the former Speaker is now locked in an intense struggle for the party’s presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, is just as bad. In fact, it was Romney, not Gingrich, who was the first candidate to air advertisements supporting union-bashing “right-to-work (for less)” laws and promising to go after “union stooges” on the National Labor Relations Board.
So, now, AFSCME has waded into the fight, with the purchase of almost $1 million in advertising time on Florida television stations. The advertising will air in the week running up to the January 31 Republican primary—where Romney and Gingrich are in the fight of their lives.
The advertising, which will make AFSCME a major player in the final week before what could be a definitional Republican primary, targets Romney. And appropriately so. While AFSCME’s got a gripe with Gingrich, the union has just as much reason to be angry with Romney. And the AFSCME ad explains why: Romney’s been engaged with corporations that have gotten in big trouble for Medicare fraud, an issue that is of particular importance to a union whose members provide frontline medical care and assistance to the elderly and the poor.