NASHVILLE, TN – It’s a tradition around election time for Democratic Party hopefuls to gather at some union hall, taste some cherry tomatoes, salami, and cheese chunks and promise to look out for working men and women once they get elected. The problem is not enough of them get elected.
Vonda McDaniel, President of the Nashville Central Labor Council, emceed a working people’s town hall at the Nashville Education Association hall October 25. Unions want to get pro-worker candidates elected across the state.
Back in the day, campaign events like the one held last Thursday were well-attended festivities organized by the unions that represent government workers. They were celebrations that promised to bear fruit with higher wages or better health coverage for Metro’s bus drivers, firemen, healthcare workers, and teachers. Not anymore.
For two years in a row, Metro teachers didn’t get the raises they were expecting. And thousands of Metro employees, like firemen and first responders, didn’t get a cost of living raise either. City Hall is well aware its employees are being squeezed out of the housing market because they don’t make enough money to live in the city they serve.
“I think the reality we have to face is that in the house there are the ‘fighting 25’ who support the working class and 74 very ultra-conservative colleagues who don’t,” said Brenda Gilmore, a candidate for State Senate in District 19.
Gilmore, Karl Dean, and Bob Freeman sat behind tables facing seven union reps who briefed the candidates on the issues important to their members.
“Tennessee federal workers and workers all over have been attacked recently by Congress and the President is trying to privatize our jobs and take away out bargaining rights,” said Lisa Hartman, a nurse with the Veterans Administration. She is V-P of the local union representing federal workers in Nashville.
She asked if the three candidates would reach out to Congressmen and Senators to stop the attacks on federal workers. Not surprisingly, Eric Huth, who represents Nashville teachers, talked about low wages. “The number one issue that is impacting teachers in this particular district would be pay. And the issue is a problem all across the state,” Huth said. He noted that the state may provide for teacher raises but local school districts can use the money for other things and often do.
Trista Boseman is a member of SEIU Local 205 and represents workers at General Hospital. “As we gather tonight to vote I want to remind all of us we need to elect officials who believe healthcare is a human right,” Boseman said.
Mark Young, President of Firefighters Local 140, said cancer was now the leading cause of death among firefighters. He said Nashville’s firefighters are protected but Young wanted to know if the candidates would support a statewide cancer bill for firefighters.
C.L. Smith, V-P of UAW Local 737 talked about retirement security for his members, better wages and healthcare. “We are concerned mainly with the disintegration of the Middle Class,” Smith said.
Patrick Green, President of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1235, said their main concern was worker safety. He noted that in September three bus drivers were attacked while they were driving a bus. He wanted support for stronger laws to protect drivers and passengers.
Dr. Cynthia George, represents workers at TSU. Her members are worried by the threat of privatization at public universities which threatens to take away jobs with union benefits.
Once they heard from the union reps, the candidates each responded.
“One of the things that needs to change in this state is that when people want to unionize that is a decision that the workers make. It’s not something that the state weighs in on. They should be allowed to do it and the state should let that happen,” said Dean.
“We’ve got to learn how to work smarter not harder so we can use from November 7 through early January to sit down and figure out how we can get some of these laws passed,” said Gilmore.
Bob Freeman is a political neophyte running for a House seat in District 56. “I decided to run when I looked out and saw a lot of partisan decisions being made that really shouldn’t be partisan,” Freeman said. “How does the safety and health of our firemen become partisan?” he asked.
Dean left to go to a fundraiser. “It’s part of this business,” he said. About a dozen people loaded up into two vans and road to a polling place at Casa Azafran on Nolensville Rd. to vote.