News & Events

Patrick seeks to cement union ties

But warns he’s not ‘governor of labor’

By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff

Governor Deval Patrick, seeking to shore up an uneasy relationship with organized labor, highlighted his administration’s record of helping unions and their members yesterday but struck a defiant tone, saying he would not pander for their support.

“I am proud to be a Democrat and proud to be prolabor,’’ Patrick said at yesterday’s Labor Day breakfast in Boston, an annual union and political rally that starts the campaign season in earnest. “But I am not the governor of the Democrats. I am not the governor of labor.’’

In a blunt speech to a traditionally Democratic stronghold that has shown recent signs of fraying, Patrick said he has pursued policies that will benefit the public at large, not just union interests.

Yet he also cast himself as the best advocate for working families in a sharply contested gubernatorial race. His focus on education, health care, and support for the unemployed, he said, has helped struggling families during hard economic times. “With us, your voice, your needs, your concerns will be heard,’’ Patrick said. “Work with us, and we will all win.’’

In a fiery speech at the Park Plaza Hotel gathering, Robert Haynes, Massachusetts AFL-CIO president, took a swipe at Patrick, describing himself as “prolabor, a Democrat, and there are no buts.’’

Patrick received strong union support when he campaigned four years ago but has raised labor’s ire by supporting civilian flaggers instead of police officers at some traffic sites, pushing for charter schools, and opposing plans to allow slot machines at racetracks.

Officials at IBEW 103, a Dorchester union local that represents about 7,500 people in the electrical and telecommunications industry, said yesterday that they are not endorsing Patrick because he did not sign the gambling bill.

“There’s a blue-collar depression going on, and until we see jobs become a real priority, we’re staying neutral,’’ Michael P. Monahan, business manager of IBEW 103, said by e-mail.

“The casino bill provides immediate job opportunities for our members and others in the construction industry, and if jobs were a real priority, this bill would [not] be in the position it is.’’

Patrick sent the measure back to the Legislature and asked lawmakers to strip out slot machine licenses for two racetracks and simply approve three casinos. That did not happen.

The governor is facing three challengers, Republican Charles D. Baker, the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, independent Timothy P. Cahill, the state treasurer, and Green-Rainbow party candidate Jill Stein.

The latest polls of likely voters suggest that Patrick is running slightly ahead of Baker, with Cahill well behind in third place.

The candidates are facing off in a televised debate tonight on WBZ-TV at 7.

Yesterday, Baker attended a Labor Day breakfast in Worcester, sponsored by the city’s Republican committee, where he voiced support for lower taxes and reduced government spending to spur economic growth and help residents pay their bills.

“They think we have a revenue problem,’’ he said, referring to Patrick, Cahill, and the Legislature. “I think they have a spending problem.’’

In an interview later in the day, Baker said people are increasingly frustrated by rising taxes, persistent unemployment, and the state’s yawning budget deficit.

“They think Beacon Hill has different rules than everyone else,’’ he said. Baker said he is not courting unions, but concentrating on winning the support of individual voters.

Cahill, who attended the Boston event but did not give a speech, said later that the relationship between Patrick and the unions is obviously strained. “I think there’s a feeling among a lot of union people that they’ve been taken for granted,’’ he said.

Cahill called for a special legislative session to approve casinos, which he said would create thousands of jobs and bring in millions in tax revenue, and criticized Patrick for rejecting the casino bill this summer.

Patrick also called for a special session to approve casino gambling.

“The Legislature should come back and finish this work,’’ he said to applause. “Let’s get it done.’’

Support from labor could be important to Patrick’s reelection bid, but yesterday he made it clear that he would not bow to union demands and that he sees their alliance as a two-way street.

He warned unions he would not let their interests trump the “greater good.’’

“Some of you are so mad about our disagreements that you will support someone else or sit out the race entirely,’’ Patrick said. “But we have shown that we do not, and will not, take you for granted. And I think you better be careful, respectfully, not to take us for granted, either.’’

Patrick received polite but not overly warm applause.

Yet the governor enjoyed clear support in the overwhelmingly Democratic audience, many of whom wore his campaign stickers. Outside the hotel, where supporters lined street corners, union workers chanted: “Patrick-Murray is the way to go. Hey, hey! Ho, ho!’’

Timothy Murray, the lieutenant governor, is Patrick’s running mate.

Inside the hotel ballroom, numerous signs showed support for casinos and the jobs they are expected to generate. Given the state’s 9 percent unemployment rate, many union leaders said the government has to take aggressive action to jump-start the economy.

“Find a way to put people back to work, and our economy will be just fine,’’ Haynes said. “Don’t leave the casinos on the 1-yard line,’’ he added.

In a phone interview, Stein criticized Patrick’s economic policies and called for more government investment in alternative energy and green technologies to create long-term economic growth.

“The Patrick administration has really been a train wreck for working families,’’ she said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at