Unions question Democrats rightward tilt -- Gazette.Net


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A critical ally of Democrats, labor leaders in Montgomery County say the party has strayed from core progressive values and so the union is turning to 2014 to swing the party back left.

“Our perception is that in Montgomery County, in spite of their reputation of being very liberal and progressive, they are more like the rest of the country’s drift to the right than they are different,” said Bob Stewart, executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal & County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) Local 1994.

In a strongly worded letter to the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee this month, MCGEO President Gino Renne accused the party of a being “adrift.”

Gabriel Albornoz, chairman of the county central committee, said the party and labor agree on many issues, and that the party remains true to the values that define it.

“At the end of the day, I think there’s a lot more positive than there is negative, more common ground than there isn’t,” he said.

Party leaders are scheduled to talk with the union this week and “shake loose some conflict and strengthen collaboration and alliance,” he said.

Differences between the labor and the party came to a head when local unions banded together to boycott the party’s annual Spring Ball fundraiser in May.

The challenge for labor when it disagrees with the Democratic party is that the two have been so thoroughly aligned, it has not opened communication with the Republican Party, said Mark Uncapher, president of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.

“We are willing to work with the unions and respect the work public employees do,” Uncapher said.

With the Republican Party leaning farther to the right, Renne said labor cannot agree with the GOP on anything and so is forced to continue to support Democrats by default.

Unable to support another party, the union feels its elected officials have begun taking labor for granted, he said.

And in Montgomery Democrats have started drifting to the right, away from the will of the voters, he said.

Renne pointed to a bill in the last state legislative session, introduced by Montgomery delegation chairwoman Del. Anne R. Kaiser, that exempted Lockheed Martin from paying hotel-motel taxes at its corporate training facility. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville was unavailable for comment.

Renne noted the majority decision by the all-Democratic County Council to expedite zoning review of a property in Aspen Hill where the owner, Lee Development Group, has been in talks to build a Wal-Mart. The council’s decision did not ensure Wal-Mart will come to the site, but opponents argued at the time it clearly fast-tracked the retailer locating in Aspen Hill.

Renne mentioned the council’s decision, at the request of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), to eliminate the rights of the police union to bargain the effects of management decisions and the party’s vote to recommend voters support that decision.

However, Renne did not mention that the majority of voters supported repealing effects bargaining during the 2012 election.

Albornoz said that while labor is a key stakeholder, any current rift between it and the party is, in part, a misunderstanding.

“I think some of this is a misunderstanding, I think some of this is miscommunication and think some of this is not having the opportunity to sit down and discuss these issues,” Albornoz said.

Meanwhile, Renne said MCGEO is soliciting “true progressives” for the races in 2014, hoping to swing the jurisdictions back to the left.

“No race is off the table,” he said. “If given a better choice, if given a clearly better alternative, no race is off the table.”



kalexander@gazette.net