The AFL-CIO will no longer be giving money to the Tennessee Democratic Party or its affiliates.
Delegates of the state’s umbrella group for labor unions voted this week to stop contributing to partisan groups and redirect the money to individual candidates, even Republicans.
“I’m not saying that we’re going to go out there and start throwing support to Republicans,” says Tennessee AFL-CIO president Gary Moore. But the message is very clear. We’re going to support candidates who support the working men and women of this state and understand what it is to struggle.”
The AFL-CIO hasn’t been particularly happy with Democrats anyway. Several have voted against union positions on issues like workers comp and prevailing wages.
But Moore says the shift away from Democrats is also a recognition that the GOP is in control of the Tennessee legislature.
Nationally, labor leaders have been trying to build bridges with Republicans on issues such as immigration and energy policy.
“We have to be a group that doesn’t shy away because a person is a Republican,” says Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
O’Sullivan addressed AFL-CIO members gathered in Nashville Tuesday on the need to be more open to reaching across the aisle. He acknowledged the difficulty given how unions are demonized in states like Tennessee.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” he says. “Nobody said it was going to happen overnight either.”
It’s unclear whether any Tennessee Republicans would accept donations from the AFL-CIO. And rank-and-file union members may not be keen on actually voting for a Republican.
“No, it’s not something I’d be proud to say,” says Wayne Wells of McEwen, leader of an AFL-CIO affiliate representing crane and heavy equipment operators.
But, Wells says, he’s come to accept there’s got to be some give and take in politics.