Brown, Warren Battle For The Union Vote

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Surrounded by police officers, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown speaks during a campaign event in Milford on Thursday. (Steven Senne/AP)
Surrounded by police officers, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown speaks during a campaign event in Milford on Thursday. (Steven Senne/AP)

On the eve of the final weekend before Election Day, both candidates for Massachusetts' U.S. Senate seat are going all out on the campaign trail.

And on the trail, both Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren have been reaching out to unions.

Two years ago, Democratic nominee Martha Coakley showed that when you run for the U.S. Senate, it's not enough to get union endorsements. Most unions endorsed her, but an exit poll by the AFL-CIO found that 49 percent of the union rank and file voted for her opponent, Brown. Warren is working hard to make sure that doesn't happen again.

One argument she uses is that Brown has voted against creating union jobs. Here she is this fall addressing a huge room of union organizers and rank and file members in Dorchester:

The president proposed a jobs bill that would prevent the layoffs of teachers, of firefighters, of police officers, all over Massachusetts and all over the country. Scott Brown and every other Republican voted no.

And then a week after that, the president proposed another jobs bill that would have supported 11,000 jobs here in Massachusetts, mostly construction jobs, repairing our roads and bridges that need to be repaired. Scott Brown and every other Republican voted no.

Union workers listen to Elizabeth Warren at a lunch in Dorchester this fall. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Union workers listen to Elizabeth Warren at a lunch in Dorchester this fall. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Brown says he voted against the measures because they would have increased taxes. He addressed the issue recently at a pizzeria in North Andover:

So you think you have a jobs bill. You think, oh, my gosh, that's going to create jobs. It doesn't tell you that it's really a tax bill and it's going to tax $450 billion out of private sector and businesses like this to give to the federal government in an effort to increase government spending.

At Warren's union lunch, there was a big guy listening with rapt attention. He has "Pickup" tattooed in Gothic letters on his forearm. It's not because he drives a pickup; it's because that's his name: Ray Pickup. Warren is counting on people like Pickup to bring union workers around.

"She has no voting record yet, so you don't know how she's going to vote, but she's one of us," Pickup said. "You can look in her eyes and believe what she says, that she absolutely is one of us. She has kinda become kinda like 'Underdog' around here. She is standing up for the people. She is one of us."

"He's For Us" is the signature line of Brown's campaign. But Pickup doesn't buy it.

"He wants to be like one of us, and he will never be one of us, and he will never be one of us because he is not in the middle class," Pickup said. "He is not one of us."

But when Pickup tries to persuade people to vote for Warren, he comes up against Brown's argument.

"He sits there and says he's from Massachusetts, 'So vote for me. Elizabeth Warren is not from Massachusetts, so don't vote for her.' That was one little angle that a lot of people look at. She's not from Massachusetts, so she's not one of us."

Pickup, a glazier, doesn't buy it.

"I drive a pickup truck," he said. "No one's going to be fooled by the pickup truck and no one's going to be fooled by the Carhartt jacket, like everyone was before."

And Pickup feels that he has an easier time winning over people for Warren than he did two years ago for Coakley. "Scott Brown has voted against so many things that we stand by, and that's a track record now," he said.

One of Brown's former colleagues in the state Senate, Steve Tolman, is now the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. At the Democratic National Convention, Tolman joked it's his job to talk to the white guys, to win them over for Warren. He wouldn't repeat that in a recent interview, but he did explain why he thinks Brown got the votes of so many union members two years ago:

Scott Brown, in his reelection to state Senate, was just endorsed by the state AFL-CIO, and during that time, he worked across the aisle with the Democrats. I was in there. I worked with Scott on several different issues. Scott never hid the fact at that point that he was a Republican and he was frankly pretty proud of the fact that he was a union member.

But Brown still has union support — in particular, many police unions. At an event in Milford Thursday, Brown was surrounded by police officers.

Among the people in the audience was Milford's police chief, Tom O'Loughlin, who is drawn to Brown not so much for his support for police officers as for his independence.

"I believe that he does come from the center, and that's where I come from," O'Loughlin said. "I'm not tied to any one philosophy or any one political approach — conservative when it comes to economic things, and then on social programs, I tend to lean where you help people as best you're able to. I believe that's where he comes from."

But it wasn't just police officers who were there. Hopkinton firefighter Caz Piorkowski also likes Brown.

"The independent voice, and just being able to use common sense when we make our decisions," Piorkowski said about why he likes Brown.

The Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts has endorsed Warren, but Piorkowski illustrates the challenge union leaders have in peeling rank and file union members away from Brown.

This program aired on November 2, 2012.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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