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N.M. AFSCME prez ‘very sure’ Martin Chavez endorsement reflects majority
ALBUQUERQUE — The recent discord within AFSCME local 624 — which represents City of Albuquerque blue collar workers — over the endorsement of Marty Chavez for mayor has been, in the words of one political commenter, a rare glimpse of internal union conflict spilling over into public view.
Local president Steve Griego refused interviews with the Independent as the matter developed — from the initial call for an internal election to gauge agreement with the endorsement, to a police call to the union hall due to a physical altercation, to one of our reporters being thrown out of a public membership meeting.
But the president of AFSCME Council 18, the umbrella organization for the many AFSCME locals in the state, said he’s confident the endorsement — which is the first the union has ever given Chavez — reflects the majority opinion of AFSCME members.
The president, Andrew Padilla, also said the endorsement reflects a new leaf being turned in the union’s relationship with Chavez, which in the past has been rocky. Padilla famously said last year that Chavez’s refusal to support a binding arbitration measure was a “punch in the gut” to labor.
“In the past we’ve always been his opponent, and you know, I’ve never seen anyone who will reward his opponent,” Padilla remarked in an interview.
“This endorsement is a truce really,” Padilla said, “We’re in hard times. Albuquerque may still have a deficit next year — we’re not out of the storm yet. We’re putting our trust in Chavez, and let’s see what happens now.”
Padilla’s remarks may give the impression that the endorsement was calculated, but he said polling of its members showed that a slight majority of registered AFSCME voters living within the city limits favored Chavez.
The national AFSCME organization polled every member of the union who was a registered city voter, including state, county and city employees, he said. When asked why it polled all AFSCME members in the city rather than just city workers, Padilla said the union felt it was important to know what all its members in the city thought about the mayoral candidates.
“We polled those who vote in the city limits on that specific race, and it resulted in a slight edge for Marty Chavez,” he said. “I’m very sure our endorsement reflects the majority of AFSCME members.”
Padilla said the union is prohibited from using union funds for political activity without specific permission from individual union members. He explained that the union’s PEOPLE committee, which made the endorsement, is a standard AFSCME fixture through which the union does political work. Members choose individually to support the PEOPLE committee.
Local 624 has two members who sit on the local PEOPLE committee that made the decision to endorse the mayor, but it does not have a structure or process in place for making political endorsements itself.
Padilla downplayed the seriousness of the dispute that brought the police out to the union hall.
“In our organization it’s fine to disagree — it’s not uncommon,” he said. “But I thought the call to the police was a misuse of resources. If you’re going to call the police every time we have a disagreement, you better put a substation at AFSCME.”
Padilla also disputed the reason that Jerry Sanchez, vice president of local 624 and one of the organizers of the internal vote to gauge agreement with the endorsement, cited for why that vote was voided.
Sanchez — who sits on the executive board that made the decision to not certify the votes — told the Independent it was because union members didn’t trust the accuracy of the ballots after they remained with Steve Griego for almost a week.
“He had them for almost a week before our executive board met, and we felt they might have been tampered with,” he told the Independent.
Padilla said the votes weren’t certified because there were two ballot boxes — one at the union hall and one that was “roving.”
“They brought in a box with 24 votes in it, but who is to say if that box was stuffed?” Padilla said.
Padilla said he is staying out of what happens now — which Sanchez says is another election — because ultimately what Local 624 does in terms of an internal election is up to them.
“I was told by Jerry it’s a 624 issue, so I’m staying out of it,” said Padilla. “It’s their right to disagree. A lot of our members disagreed with the Hillary (Clinton for president) endorsement as well. That was a rough time — a lot of our members voted for Obama.”
Sanchez said a local 624 election committee has been set up to lead another election that will take about two weeks.