State - AFL-CIO endorses Bernero for governor

By Kathy Barks Hoffman

AP Political Writer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- The Michigan AFL-CIO last week endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero, igniting a battle for union endorsements in the race.

The state AFL-CIO represents over 600,000 active and retired members in 59 unions throughout Michigan, including the United Auto Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"This is a lot of people. It means boots on the ground, volunteers, positive word of mouth. Votes, ultimately," Bernero told The Associated Press. "It adds greatly to our momentum."

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said in a conference call that Bernero got the nod because he's more in line with traditional Democratic values than Dillon. Dillon has angered some unions by suggesting that all public workers should be covered by one health care plan and pay a larger share of their costs.

"You don't fix Michigan's middle class by cutting their earnings and benefits," Gaffney said. "That's an easy, short-term, wrong fix. We needed a candidate who understood that."

The union confederation made its endorsement a day after the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents nearly 100,000 workers statewide, endorsed Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon, Bernero's main rival in the race.

Bernero, currently serving his second term as Lansing mayor, said his endorsement sent a clear signal that he was "the candidate for working people."

Unions aren't as big a force in Michigan elections as they have been in the past, in part because their membership and ability to donate money has declined.

Nevertheless, the AFL-CIO endorsement will give the little-known Bernero a huge statewide network through which he can increase his name recognition, raise money and collect the 15,000 signatures he needs to get on the ballot, said Democratic consultant Chris De Witt.

Published: Tue, Mar 16, 2010