The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) has announced an early endorsement for the re-election campaign of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. At the governor’s first campaign event on Tuesday, LIUNA Eastern Regional Manager Ray Pocino touted Christie’s close relationship with the union, saying, “He has been in our union halls, on our jobs, meeting with our members and our contractors.”
LIUNA’s endorsement of Christie underscores a cultural and political divide which separates some of America’s trade construction unions from other institutions in the labor movement. Even as the Republican Party wages an all-out war on the vast majority of unions—going so far as to call for a national “right-to-work” law in its 2012 party platform—prominent GOP figures have maintained amicable relationships with construction unions.
For example, during the 2012 presidential election, In These Times reported that then-vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan had close ties to Operating Engineers Local 139. In Michigan, the only union to endorse Republican Rick Snyder’s 2010 bid for governor was the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, though they recanted their endorsement after Snyder signed “right-to-work” legislation as governor.
“I don’t think the labor movement is a monolith in New Jersey,” said Steve Wollmer, the communications director for the New Jersey Education Association, a teachers’ union. He said the Laborers have maintained a “very different” relationship with Christie than the often embattled public sector unions.
“He’s certainly been able to assist them in employing members around the state,” said Wollmer. “He was clear on that, and that obviously had a lot to do with their ability to endorse him.”
John Wisniewski, chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said LIUNA’s endorsement of Christie was likely “set in stone” when the governor reappointed Pocino as commissioner of Port Authority. ”While I am sure Gov. Christie is grateful for Mr. Pocino returning the favor, the electoral impact of LIUNA’s endorsement has historically been mixed at best,” he said in a statement.
Christie’s dealings with public sector unions has often been hostile. “He’ cut funding for education, and he’s caused the layoff of thousands of people since the beginning of his administration,” said Wollmer. “So he may have been able to help the laborers with employing their members, but he certainly hasn’t done much for public education.”
In April 2011, Christie blamed the laying off of New Jersey schoolteachers on “political thugs” in union leadership, who he said had refused to negotiate a pay freeze which could have saved jobs. That June, he successfully passed legislation which limits the ability of public sector unions to collectively bargain over wages and benefits. At his 2012 Republican National Convention keynote speech, the governor went on to boast of his ability to “speak the truth to the teachers’ union.”
However, Christie and the teachers’ unions have sometimes found common ground, albeit on issues which arguably weaken the power of the union: notably tenure reform and merit-based pay, the latter of which the Newark teachers’ union supported and the statewide NJEA opposed.
According to a November 30 PPP poll, Christie is “strongly favored” to win another term and holds a 67% approval rating.