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Tom Perez gets major union endorsement in bid for governor

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Democrat Tom Perez pledges to be a partner with labor unions, should he win his bid for governor, as he accepts the endorsement of two branches of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Credit: Rachel Baye/WYPR

Tom Perez got a major endorsement Wednesday in his Democratic gubernatorial bid, as he won the backing of two branches of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, AFSCME Council 3 and AFSCME Council 67, which together represent about 50,000 government workers.

The union highlighted Perez’s experience on the Montgomery County Council from 2002 through 2006, and leading both the Maryland and the U.S. labor departments.

“There's no clearer example of why we need a better governor than the one we have than the problems — struggles — that Marylanders have been having with the unemployment system — the fiasco that has been going on,” said Orion Jones, who works for the Maryland Department of Labor’s Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning.

Jones was at the agency when Perez led it under Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“He comes in with a wealth of experience administering public agencies and public programs,” Jones said. “Under his leadership, Maryland implemented one of the nation's first statewide living wage laws.”

In a nearly 20-minute speech, Perez linked the union’s complaints about Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to a fight for civil rights.

“There's been an unmitigated assault on both civil rights and labor rights — assaults from state governments, assaults from federal courts, assaults from Republicans in Washington,” Perez said. “And you know what, folks, we are not going to put up with it.”

He promised to partner with the unions and to ensure that state agencies have sufficient staff and resources to provide their intended services. A lack of resources has been among AFSCME’s chief complaints about the current administration.

He also promised to make sure state workers earn a living wage.

“The dignity of work means that the state of Maryland — Maryland government — should never be aiding and abetting poverty,” Perez said. “If you work for the state of Maryland, you shouldn't have to get food stamps to feed your family.”

The endorsement comes early in a crowded race.

In 2018, the union did not endorse a gubernatorial candidate until after the primary. This time, AFSCME Maryland President Patrick Moran said they wanted a head start, especially given how many candidates are vying for the job.

“It’s going to be a tough race,” Moran said. “I think we have a lot of people to talk to over time and, you know, a lot of work to do to get people motivated and moving forward.”

Rachel Baye is a reporter for WYPR's newsroom.
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