If Union Members Were Not So Politically Conservative –
By Berry Craig –
PADUCAH, Ky. — Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says Bluegrass State union members are her “secret weapon” in her quest to unseat arch conservative Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and help the Democrats keep a majority hold on the U.S. Senate.
“You will be the reason we bring this election across the finish line,” she told several hundred union members at a rally for the West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council. “You are what Mitch McConnell can’t buy. He may be able to buy those airwaves, but he can’t buy the heart and soul of hardworking Kentuckians.”
For the second straight year, Grimes was the headliner at the Pre-Fancy Farm Picnic Luncheon in Paducah. The West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council sponsors the feed the day before thousands gather in little Fancy Farm for the state’s biggest political picnic that is famous for spicy hot barbecue and no-holds-barred stump speaking.
The midday meal crowd of union members, local Democratic politicians and others rewarded Grimes’ remarks with multiple standing ovations. The faithful already were fired up when the state AFL-CIO-endorsed candidate strode onto the stage at Walker Hall in a white jacket, blue jeans and brown cowboy boots.
Her shiny gray and blue campaign bus with “AlisonForKentucky.com” painted on the sides had rolled into town two hours earlier for the grand opening of the local Democratic headquarters in an old BP gas station.
Union members helped swell that crowd, which welcomed Grimes to the hometown of Alben Barkley, Senate majority leader under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry Truman’s vice president.
“Mitch McConnell has never done anything for unions,” said Ron Spann of Paducah, a retired United Steelworkers (USW) international representative. “He is ‘Senator No.’ He has voted against every jobs bill that ever was.”
UAW retiree Jay Latham, 84 and still active in the UAW’s Western Kentucky Retired Workers Council, agreed with Spann Latham.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes is union all the way,” Latham said. “And her opponent wouldn’t know the truth if it met him in the middle of the road.”
Paducah resident Kyle Henderson, building trades president and business manager of Paducah-based Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA) Local 184, called “McConnell 110 percent anti-labor,” and Glenn Dowdy, a former area council president, dismissed McConnell as “a do-nothing senator who shows no interest in the citizens of Kentucky. He only cares about himself.”
Luz Rafael, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 227, supports Grimes “because it’s time to have someone fight to raise the minimum wage. She is also for equal pay for equal work.”
Many union members came from central and eastern Kentucky, including Bill Finn, state Building Trades Council director from Louisville, who said McConnell pushes “the failed Republican agenda of driving down wages in the name of getting the economy back on track. The only way to fix the economy is to raise wages, benefits and the standard of living for everybody.”
Chris Bartley, president of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 446 in Lexington, said Grimes is “good for unions.”
She opposes ‘right to work’ and supports collective bargaining. She thinks workers should have the right to sit down with employers to work things out.
Grimes said she was grateful for the strong union support she is getting.
“Because of you, we have withstood millions of dollars — million dollars in the past year — negative, nasty attacks,” she said. “You have held the ground. You have said this election won’t be bought. We aren’t up for sale.”
Grimes vowed that she is the alternative to “a senator who 15 times says ‘no’ to increasing the minimum wage while he quadruples his net worth on our backs.”
“Aren’t we ready for a senator who says it’s not a minimum wage, it’s a living wage that our workers need?” she asked.
“Kentucky doesn’t need a senator who says, ‘Well, the barriers for women have all been lowered’ and that equal pay for equal work is just preferential treatment. Aren’t we ready for a senator who says 76 cents on every dollar, that’s not acceptable? This isn’t a woman’s issue,” she said. “This is a family issue worth fighting for.”
Grimes asked the crowd, “Instead of a senator who doesn’t understand that it is labor that has lifted millions out of poverty, aren’t we ready for a United States senator who says collective bargaining is a fundamental right for our American workers and that right to work is just another word for union busting?”
Grimes promised she wouldn’t “be a senator who gives tax breaks and trade deals to ship our good Kentucky jobs overseas” and pledged to be a senator “who will keep those jobs here in the commonwealth, American-made.”
She concluded by putting her spin on “Hit the Road, Jack,” the famous Ray Charles hit song. Grimes led the crowd in chorusing, “Hit the road, Mitch, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.”
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.