Right Opinion

The Union's Pick

Roy Exum · Jul. 13, 2010

Tim Boyd, who is running for county commissioner, spent 10 years of his life cleaning up big messes but now he is facing one that has the potential to be very costly to taxpayers in the next few years. Tim, a political neophyte who made his mark cleaning up environment waste, is now running against a popular guy who has most recently served as the Chairman of the Hamilton County School Board, Kenny Smith.

I have known Kenny since he was a scrappy basketball player at City High School but our political ideals are quite different. Kenny is all about organized labor – he works for the union – and I believe unions once darn near ruined Chattanooga. I think unions drove away all of the city’s big industry and still play havoc with the hard-forged progress Hamilton County has just gotten back to a gallop.

So when an Internet search revealed that roughly half of Smith’s campaign donations are from big labor unions and lawyers, it is not only alarming but doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize organized labor would love nothing more to regain its foothold in Hamilton County.

Thus far Smith, a Democrat, has raised about 10 times more of a war chest than the more conservative Boyd, a Republican. But a quick glance at Smith’s financial disclosure forms reveal virtually none of the declared donations came from those in the county’s District 8, which includes East Ridge, Brainerd, and Concord.

No, instead there is $3,000 from the Iron Workers, another $5,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Washington, D.C., and $5,000 from the Tennessee Laborer’s PAC in Nashville. Further, there is a consistent sprinkling of donations from other union groups and you wonder why on earth people in Washington and Nashville would be so concerned about citizens in East Ridge and Brainerd.

So here’s a thought: the fast-growing Service Employee International Union reported it spend $85 million during the 2008 elections. This caused SEIU President Andy Stern to say in a video marking President Barak Obama’s first 100 days, “SEIU is on the field, it’s in the White House, it’s in the administration.”

Well, using that theory, it is easy to draw an arrow to the impending Hamilton County Commission race. If Smith wins, it may not only tilt the commission politically but the SEIU would potentially be one step closer in its efforts to recruit Hamilton County’s municipal workers in an area of the work force where there is literally no competition. Municipal workers are the SEIU’s “low hanging fruit,” don’t you see?

There is no doubt Smith has a huge heart for unions. He already heads the apprentice program for the IBEW in Chattanooga and, with Mayor Ron Littlefield urging the combination of some city and county services, the District 8 race takes on a heady aroma indeed.

When the unions in Chattanooga were at their peak, all of big industry soon left the city. Combustion even moved to Mexico and the city acquired a stigma that is still reflected by the lack of large industry today. There are some who believe that’s what made the large Industrial Park South such a hard sell before Volkswagen, a non-union auto giant, finally took a chance. It has been widely rumored another auto maker ruled out the Chattanooga site based on the union threat alone, which sent several thousand jobs elsewhere.

And while there are others who will argue, the non-union Nissan plant in Smyrna is today one of the state’s largest employers while the huge GM plant in Spring Hill, where union labor once assembled Saturn automobiles, is now closed and shuttered. And, no, the reason isn’t only because GM discontinued the brand.

In fairness, Kenny Smith can accept campaign donations from any contributor he wants to, but, in honestly, it is puzzling that there would be such a huge interest by organized labor in the county’s District 8 race. East Ridge and Brainerd aren’t exactly known for either industry or organized labor so perhaps there is a different reason.

You see, President Obama has repaid the SEIU quite handsomely with key appointments and, in the way things work, the $85 million the service-employee union doled out in the 2008 election appears to be a shrewd investment. That’s what makes you wonder if organized labor is trying to do the same thing in Chattanooga, where once it was strong.

But who would have ever thought it would come back through East Ridge and Brainerd?

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