By Mark J. Magyar
A Political Force
Silva’s candidacy could establish her — and the SEIU — as a political force in New Jersey if the SEIU jumps into the race and the Buono-Silva ticket does better than expected. Buono will undoubtedly get the blame if Christie’s gigantic lead holds up.
For the SEIU, the Silva race is a rare opportunity. Few labor leaders get to run on a major party ticket for statewide office. Eaton could not think of one in recent years, and the last labor leader to run statewide in New Jersey was state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Vincent Murphy, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 1943. That, of course, was at the height of the labor movement, when more than 40 percent of New Jersey workers and 31.1 percent of all U.S. workers belonged to unions, compared to just 16.1 percent and 11.3 percent last year.
Buono already has been running as an unabashed pro-labor liberal, and Silva’s candidacy will provide an opportunity for her to make a case in two of the nation’s top media markets that labor unions that organize low-wage workers are the solution to what ails New Jersey’s and the nation’s economy, rather than the problem – a message that ties in with the Democratic push for passage of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot raising the minimum wage.
Further, Buono is running against Christie, who first made a national reputation with his YouTube videos bashing public employee labor unions and is one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination if he wins big in November. That possibility might give the SEIU an incentive to spend a few million dollars helping the Buono-Silva ticket reach its matching-fund target and attacking Christie now, rather than having to spend tens of millions later.
“Local 1199 is renowned for its political operation, more in New York than in New Jersey,” noted Adrienne Eaton, president of Rutgers University’s American Federation of Teachers union and director of the Labor Studies and Employment Relations Department. “And certainly, SEIU has been in the top 10 nationally in campaign spending in every cycle for the past 10 years, and probably longer, so they have a record of heavy political involvement.”
On the Ticket
Putting Silva on the ticket, Eaton said, “can attract support from SEIU at least, but I don’t know that it’s going to attract much more from the labor movement as a whole because of SEIU’s past actions.”
“The problem is that it’s a divided labor movement in more ways than one,” she explained. “SEIU has this difficult relationship with the AFL-CIO, particularly nationally. And in New Jersey, you also have the public sector and building trades union divide, and I don’t think Silva will bring the building trades unions around.”