By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
The 13-member board representing the Montana AFL-CIO and its 50,000 members on Tuesday endorsed four Democrats and one Republican running for statewide office, including incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox.
The board also criticized GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte for canceling a scheduled interview with the AFL-CIO “without notice.”
“He canceled on us very abruptly with no explanation after a month of trying to make it happen,” said Bob Funk, communications director for the AFL-CIO. “We have 13 board members who shifted their schedule around to meet or speak with the candidates. We made it very easy.”
Aaron Flint, spokesman for Gianforte, said the candidate and his campaign attempted to reschedule the interview. Flint said Gianforte has already met with union representatives across the state.
“Right now, (Gianforte) is doing 61 different listening sessions in 61 different Montana communities,” Flint said. “There’s always these scheduling conflict. It’s unfortunate that the AFL-CIO didn’t want to reschedule.”
The AFL-CIO placed its support behind Bullock, a Democrat, and Fox, a Republican. Both are incumbents seeking reelection to their current office.
The board also endorsed Jesse Laslovich for State Auditor and Melissa Romano for Superintendent of Public Instruction. It endorsed State Auditor Monica Lindeen for Secretary of State.
Al Ekblad, executive secretary for the Montana AFL-CIO and a board member, said candidates were quizzed on a number of subjects including home health-care workers, wages, natural resources and the right of workers to access collective bargaining.
“In our mind, it’s the protection of both private- and public-sector workers to make sure they have access to collective bargaining,” said Ekblad. “That certainly encompasses the attacks that come through national organizations trying to push a right-to-work agenda here in Montana.”
The Montana AFL-CIO represents 35 unions, 500 locals and 50,000 workers and their families. The board is elected by AFL-CIO membership and endorsements take place through what Ekblad described as a democratic process of debate and voting.
While the board has yet to endorse other state candidates including the Montana Public Service Commission, the Montana Supreme Court and state legislative races, it did settle endorsements for the five statewide offices.
The board lauded Bullock’s “proven track record of collaborating with and fighting for working Montanans.” Despite obstruction from opponents, the AFL-CIO said, Bullock “has managed to pass legislation important to the working class. His opponent (Gianforte) has already made it clear that he has no interest in working with us or our 50,000 members.”
Ekblad said the AFL-CIO was disappointed that Gianforte declined to discuss the issues facing the state’s working class in the scheduled interview.
“It seems to me like they didn’t even want to have the conversation,” Ekblad said. “Regardless of who we pick, we want to have a conversation with people running for office. We were disappointed that he chose not to have a conversation that – through the democratic process – represents 50,000 workers.”
Flint said Gianforte supports Montana workers and that he attempted to reschedule the interview.
“The organizations that are trying to shut down Colstrip and shut down union jobs are the same organizations supporting Steve Bullock,” Flint said. “If you’re a working Montanan, you’d be very concerned.”