Labor unions may influence mayoral election

Posted at: 09/02/2013 6:17 PM | Updated at: 09/03/2013 9:59 AM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

ALBUQUERQUE -- In a break with tradition, Labor Day saw only one candidate in the three-man race for mayor of Albuquerque actually out on the campaign trail.

The two Republicans in the race took the day off, leaving the lone Democrat to look for votes.

Pete Dinelli had the big multi-union Labor Day picnic in Old Town all to himself. Republican Paul Heh said he gave his campaign staff the day off.  Republican Mayor Richard Berry's staff said he was spending the day with his family.

But were his ears burning?

"You've got an incumbent mayor that is at an impasse with virtually all of the labor unions," Dinelli charged. "I've picked up all of the major endorsements, from AFSCME, the plumbers, the carpenters, the electricians."

"I think the labor vote is going to be crucial in the election," said Joel Villareal of AFSCME, the union representing thousands of government workers. "I think there are a lot of issues that are going on currently with this current administration that have really brought up the flags in a lot of these organizations."

Labor unions represent about 50,000 workers in New Mexico – about 6.5 percent of the state's workforce. But they can flex impressive political muscle in a relatively low-turnout city election. Union leaders hope to motivate their rank and file members and persuade them to cast ballots in favor of Dinelli, putting a union-friendly Democrat in the mayor's office. Most union members nowadays are public employees, including city workers and public school teachers.

"In recent history, we changed a U.S. Senate seat," said city bus driver Paul Froonjian, an AFSCME member. "We changed it from a Republican seat that Pete Domenici held for over 30 years, and in one election cycle, we turned it into a Democratic seat with Martin Heinrich. Labor was very influential in that."

Dinelli scored points with labor leaders recently by backing a proposed city ordinance that would favor unions in city-financed construction projects.

"Now I'm hoping to get the endorsements of the police and firefighter unions," Dinelli said. "I'm hoping. Those are extremely important."


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