Progressive groups, unions enter 2022 with bigger appetite (and some grudges)

by | Jan 12, 2022 | Politics, Unions

Progressive groups and unions that invested heavily in Texas races in 2020 are gearing up for another intense election cycle.

Derrick Osobase, Texas political and legislative director for Communications Workers of America, said the union plans on spending just as much or more in Texas in 2022.

The political arm of the CWA spent $11 million last cycle, including $793,699 on Texas races and allied political groups in the state, according to Federal Election Commission filings. 

At the federal level, the union plans on mobilizing to pass the Build Back Better Act, Right to Organize Act, as well as legislation to secure voting rights, which Osobase said was one of the most important issues for members in the Lone Star State.

“If we continue to allow this Republican majority to have power in this state, we probably won’t have elections,” Osobase said. “We think it’s that serious.”

Much of the union’s energy will focus on state legislative races and the governor’s race where members have endorsed Beto O’Rourke in his bid against Gov. Greg Abbott. 

“I think we have the best chance to win a statewide race in a longtime,” Osobase said. “We have a party and a governor that’s shown they will do everything they can to stop people or discourage people from voting.”

The union will also be heavily engaged in Texas’ 28th congressional district, where Jessica Cisneros is challenging conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar in one of the most-watched primaries of the country. 

“He rarely votes in worker’s interest and quite frankly we’re tired of it,” Osobase said of Cuellar. “His record on labor rights and labor initiatives have been atrocious.”

In 2020, the CWA spent $112,950 on print, digital and radio ads to support Cisneros, an amount in independent expenditures that was only outshined by the pro-abortion PAC Emily List, who spent $1.2 million on the race, and the Working Families Party who spent $183,814.

Working Families Party, a political party and relative newcomer to Texas politics that backs Democrats aligned with their platform, aims to spend in the ballpark of half a million dollars this cycle, WFP Texas Co-director Pedro Lira told the Signal.

Much of that money will go to door-to-door canvassing. 

“At the end of the day, when you can really connect with people face to face, that’s really what motivates people to get out to vote,” Lira said. “We’re trying to build a real base of working class people. You can’t do that without involving those people.” 

Outside of the Cisneros race, the WFP has also endorsed former Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar in his bid for Texas’ 35th congressional district. In TX-30, where longtime Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring, WFP members are still weighing an endorsement between state Rep. Jasmine Crockett and Navy veteran and housing activist Jessica Mason.

In partnership with CWA and Texas Organizing Project, WFP is also bankrolling “Texans for Better Dems,” a new political action committee that will primary Democrats in the state legislature who returned from Washington D.C. to restore quorum, a move that caused a rift in the state party and led to the creation of the Texas Progressive Caucus. 

“We were incredibly proud of the Democrats who fled the state to deny Republicans quorum. It’s exactly the kind of leadership that we need from our elected officials,” Lira said. “We were also just as disappointed to see some of those Democrats come back. And it’s because those Democrats gave Republicans quorum that bills like the abortion ban and the anti-voting legislation were able to pass.” 

Lira said the PAC was created specifically to primary those Democrats. 

The state’s largest federation of unions, the Texas AFL-CIO, will be holding its COPE Convention on Jan. 20-21 where delegates will decide on endorsements for the 2022 elections (and where the Signal’s very own Jessica Montoya Coggins will co-moderate a debate between the attorney general candidates). 

“We’re gonna be looking for candidates that understand the system is not working for working people, and that we need to set the state on a different course,” said Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy.

Levy said endorsements from the union will be communicated to its 240,000 members around the state and will also involve door-knocking field programs in support of candidates.

Jay Malone, political and communications director for the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, a local labor council with the AFL-CIO, said their members are also still going through an endorsement process that involves delegates from 92 unions.

A full slate of endorsements for candidates in the Houston area will be revealed in three weeks, with the exception of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo who was already endorsed in December.

“That was the first time we ever made an early endorsement,” Malone said. 

“It took a lot of work but everybody agreed that Lina’s been doing a fantastic job and we needed to do everything we could to keep her,” Malone said. 

Malone said there’s been county-level progress on labor issues from commissioners court, which recently passed a fair chance hiring policy and ran one of the most effective rental assistance programs in the country. 

And while Malone said this cycle appeared to have a relatively sleepy primary season, the labor group would still be rolling up its sleeves in some races, including to defend state Rep. Alma Allen and oust Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a conservative Democrat that sided with Republicans on anti-trans issues this past session.

“We’re definitely going to be involved in House District 142, Harold Dutton needs to go,” Malone said.

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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