In a break from their union brothers and sisters, the Teamsters Local 597 — a 1,000-member union headquartered in Barre — endorsed Senate President Peter Shumlin in the Democratic primary for governor.
Three of the state's largest labor unions are backing Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden).
At a midday press conference in front of Champlain Cable in Colchester, Teamsters Principal Officer and Treasurer Ron Rabideau said the union chose Shumlin because the senate leader had been a true friend to labor groups throughout his career.
"Over the years I have personally appreciated Peter Shumlin’s leadership as he is a straight-forward politician. With Peter, you always know where you stand," said Rabideau of the Windham County Democrat.
The Teamsters met with Shumlin about a month ago to talk about an endorsement. Rabideau said Shumlin's support for a variety of labor issues — from worker misclassification to state-focused version of the so-called employee free choice act — were crucial to their members.
"I welcome this endorsement," said Shumlin. "I am the only candidate in this race who has both business experience and as a leader for 10 years in the senate with a track record of getting tough things done."
This past session, Rabideau noted, Shumlin helped shine a light on the fact that the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas didn't want to sign onto a public "project labor agreement" as part of the Champlain Bridge reconstruction. The PLA gives preferential hiring to local, union workers and the unions estimated it would save taxpayers almost $3 million by helping to keep the project on schedule.
"He called for public hearings on the issue and even though we didn't get the PLA, it did get people's attention and put enough public pressure on the issue that we've recently signed a private PLA with the construction firm," said Rabideau.
A private PLA means any of the savings realized from the contract will flow to the contractor's bottom line, not to the taxpayers. But, it does mean that if the contractor — Flatiron Construction out of Lafayette, CO — has to hire skilled labor they must do so through one of the local unions, said Rabideau.
That said, the local workers who do get hired over the next 18 months will earn high wages and received top-notch benefits — and that money will stay local. The firm will not have to import much skilled labor.
"People have this impression that politicians at the statehouse are working for the 'big labor bosses', but there are lots of issues that we work on that help every worker in the state," said Rabideau.
The Teamsters endorsement is Shumlin's first from a labor group. The previous three major union endorsements have gone to Racine, who has picked up the backing from the Vermont AFL-CIO, of which Teamsters 597 is a member, the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association and the Vermont State Employees Association. Combined, those three unions represent about 30,000 workers.
Two other major unions — the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Professional Firefighers of Vermont — are also determining whether to endorse in the primary.
This week, too, Racine earned the endorsement of the Vermont League of Conservation Voters. The endorsement surprised political observers who thought Shumlin was a shoe-in for the support given his push to close down Vermont Yankee in 2012 and his legislative focus on climate change.
Shumlin has been endorsed by a number of "green" business leaders, including Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation, Jeff Wolfe of GroSolar and David Blittersdorf of AllEarth Renewables.
This isn't the first time the Teamsters have broken ranks with other labor groups when it comes to a gubernatorial endorsement. In 2008, the union backed Democrat Gaye Symington over Progressive-turned-Independent Anthony Pollina in the general election.
The Teamsters do plan on endorsing in other races, but not until after the primary.
In a five-way primary that may only lure 50,000 voters to the polls, union endorsements can provide candidates with needed volunteers as they ramp up door-knocking and get-out-the-vote efforts.