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Union Roundup – September 2003

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Sure, above-the-liners have their own ways of getting involved in electoral politics. They hold Bel Air fundraisers for candidates who swing through town, SAG produces the occasional avuncular right-wing candidate for California’s governorship, etc. But down in the trenches, in the below-the-line guilds, we’re talking old-fashioned, ward-heeling, hand-shaking, get-out-the-endorsement-type politics. And both the California recall, and the ridiculously long lead times in Presidential campaigns (two years before the election) have forced the unions into current action – and forced Union Round-Up into covering ballot box issues a full issue earlier than anticipated.
IATSE has leapt most fully into the fray, with union president Tom Short making pronouncements that ensure he will never have a second career as a Fox News anchor: Among them, a succinct “no” when supporting the AFL-CIO and California Labor Federation view on how to vote in the aforementioned gubernatorial recall, and a more drawn out “We will expend all of our political resources and energy to elect Dick Gephardt as President of the United States,” when talking about IATSE’s early endorsement of the Missouri Congressman in his bid to become the first legitimately elected occupant of the White House since 1996.
Neither statement – though no fault of Short’s – may be as simple as it seems. The “vote no” sentiment in California’s recall is the official labor posture in rebuffing a Republican-sponsored ploy to upend another vote tally (though Gov. Grey Davis’s track record of refusing to stand up to special interests has come back to haunt him now that he needs popular support). However, some realpolitik may inject itself, as that statement becomes “vote no, but…”
The “but” being whether to endorse someone – read: Democratic Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamente (no, the unions will not be “experimenting” with an Ariana Huffington endorsement) – as a back-up in the likely event that the recall passes, and a new governor must be chosen. As Union Round-Up goes to press, some of those very unions are meeting to discuss their endorsement strategy on the candidate side of the recall question, and URU will keep you informed as the stances of Hollywood’s unions become known.
But clearly, with the Gephardt endorsement, IATSE is quite comfortable naming its candidate at an early juncture. The Missouri congressman has always had a line on labor support, with his anti-NAFTA credo, among other pro-worker stances (representing an ever-so-slight irony in the case of IATSE, whose international members have been known to benefit from the very jobs getting hauled out of the U.S.) and he’s lined up an impressive handful of union nods already. But an early AFL-CIO thumbs-up is a “longshot” in the words of Gephardt’s own campaign handlers (for the record, the AFL-CIO has only gotten involved this early in the endorsement process twice before: with Walter Mondale and Al Gore), and the Gephardt campaign has fallen about a million bucks short of its fundraising goals.
So there’s a chance IATSE may have to reassess its whole stance by California’s March primary if Gephardt is out of the race and it’s evolved into a Dean/Kerry dogfight (never mind the Wes Clark wildcard at this juncture).
One assumes that IATSE and all the other unions will back the eventual Democratic candidate. But for now, Gephardt represents a safe, understandable, no-hard-feelings choice for the largest below-the-line union to make. Which is to say, a solid first step in what’s going to be a long – and probably tumultuous – political season.
— By Mark London Williams

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