State Auditor Claire McCaskill kicked up her campaign for governor a notch this week by announcing her endorsement by one of Missouri’s largest unions.
The endorsement came from the Laborers’ International Union of North America; of which Columbia’s locals 955 and 1274 are members.
The Laborers’ union is an affiliate of the Missouri AFL-CIO — an umbrella organization representing 391 unions across the state.
Although the AFL-CIO’s executive board unanimously endorsed incumbent Gov. Bob Holden last November, McCaskill has secured backing from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Missouri Association of Firefighters, also affiliates of the organization.
“It’s notable because of the signal it sends,” McCaskill campaign spokesman Glenn Campbell said. “The unions that are with us are incredibly politically active.”
Holden and McCaskill face off in the state Democratic primary Aug. 3. The winner will likely face Secretary of State Matt Blunt, the front-running candidate among seven Republicans, in November’s general election.
State AFL-CIO secretary Herb Johnson said the unions’ support for McCaskill doesn’t necessarily mean that other prominent unions within his organization will follow.
“Everyone has the right to do what they wish,” Johnson said. “And it’s not surprising that there are labor people out there for Claire McCaskill. We have always enthusiastically supported her in the past — both as auditor, as a state representative, when she ran for Jackson County executive, and before that as prosecutor. She’s a great lady and has always done a great job in our opinion.”
In Columbia, representatives of locals 955 and 1274 declined comment and deferred to the state office of the Laborers’ union.
McCaskill’s spokesman said the recent endorsements mean roughly 120,000 of the 500,000 of the AFL’s affiliated members statewide are backing her.
Holden maintains a strong hold with other powerful AFL-CIO unions such as the United Auto Workers , the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union .
Johnson said that support is due in part to the loyalty many union members feel for Holden, given his dealings with the legislature during his term and his support for collective bargaining rights for state employees.
Holden issued an executive order three years ago that allowed 30,000 state workers to join unions. He also supported a regulatory measure allowing union service fees to be collected from all employees in a bargaining unit, whether they’re union members or not.
“We simply believe that Gov. Holden has been an absolutely outstanding representative for working people,” Johnson said. “We really find it hard to believe that organizations would cast aside someone that has done that much for them. I really don’t understand where they’re coming from. It’s selfishness on central issues of their own apparently.”
Ted Farnen, Missouri spokesman for the Laborers’ union and former 21st District state representative, said the decision came down to electability.
“We were choosing between friends,” Farnen said. “In the end, we felt Claire is the more electable candidate.”
Farnen said McCaskill would be able to deal effectively as governor with workers compensation and unemployment benefits. He also said she could work better with the legislature to improve the state’s weakened transportation system.
“We feel that Claire might be able to start fresh and get that accomplished,” he said.
Johnson, however, questioned McCaskill’s choice to run against Holden.
“We simply think Claire should have waited her turn or bided her time,” he said. “We have a sitting governor, and it’s not historically been very successful when you try to challenge your own governor of your party. Usually you doom yourself to defeat.”