PORTLAND, Maine — Some labor unions that helped U.S. Sen. Susan Collins win in 2014 say it’s too early to decide whether they’ll support her again in 2020 as her Democratic opponents courted workers over the Labor Day weekend.
Collins, a Republican, was supported by several labor unions in her last re-election race. Her campaign touted the endorsements heavily, and they were notable because unions typically support Democrats, though her race was uncompetitive and she won with two-thirds of votes.
Things could be different in 2020. Collins’ seat is expected the subject of one of the most expensive Senate campaigns of the 2020 cycle after her key October vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democrats have used that vote to try to tie Collins — a pro-abortion rights Republican who voted against her party in 2017 to preserve the Affordable Care Act — to her more conservative colleagues on health care policy. But unions also took issue with his nomination.
Last year, the liberal AFL-CIO said Kavanaugh has “a dangerous track record of protecting the privileges of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of working people.” That sentiment and more competitive race could create an issue for Collins with groups that backed her in the past.
Collins’ 2014 endorsements included all four Bath Iron Works unions, a construction workers union covering Massachusetts and northern New England, two statewide police unions and four local firefighter unions. The Maine AFL-CIO backed Shenna Bellows, her longshot Democratic challenger five years ago.
Three unions — the BIW Local S6, the LiUNA Local 327 and the Maine State Police Association — that previously endorsed Collins say factors like health care, job security, labor rights and Collins’ support of Kavanaugh are weighing on their minds.
Several unions said ahead of the Labor Day weekend the process of deciding who — and if — to endorse will not start for at least a few more months. The state police union has put rules into effect barring endorsements since 2014.
“There are some great things she’s done for us and other things we wish she’d gone the other way on,” said Jay Wadleigh, a former president of the machinists’ union who now works in the Lisbon office of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Wadleigh said the union has nearly as much work as it has had in 25 years largely because of Collins’ work on the appropriations committee. He said she’s always made sure “there’s plenty of money there,” despite BIW costing more than a rival shipyard in Mississippi.
But he said some — mainly women — may balk at supporting Collins due to her vote for Kavanaugh, whose nomination was wracked with controversy over whether California professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her while they were in high school should disqualify him.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a huge debate on this one,” Wadleigh said.
Other unions say they’ll wait until after the June Democratic primary before making decisions on endorsements, as they have done in the past. Collins spokesperson Kevin Kelley said the senator wasn’t concerned about a reticence to endorse yet, but thanked unions for past support and said Collins is “solely focused on doing the job that Mainers elected her to do,” noting Collins’ last labor endorsements didn’t begin until April 2014.
Two of Collins’ Democratic opponents, House Speaker Sara Gideon and lobbyist Betsy Sweet, were courting union voters over the holiday weekend. They attended a Southern Maine Labor Council breakfast in Portland on Monday and Central Maine Labor Council barbecue in Winslow on Sunday and planned to hit other events on Monday.
At the breakfast, Sweet talked to voters about her plans to introduce the Frances Perkins Act if elected, which would use federal dollars to support wages, benefits and overtime pay for direct care workers like hospital aides and day care workers funded by Medicaid and Medicare.
“We need to get back to jobs that actually pay a respectful, dignifying wage and then make sure the money and the profits that used to go to workers isn’t being siphoned off,” she said.
Gideon was also in attendance but said she didn’t have time to talk to a reporter, saying that Maine “is stronger when working people stick together, and I look forward to sharing my vision with them as I travel the state talking to Mainers.”
Bobby Marcroft, a member of the union representing Preble Street Resource Center workers, said making it easier for workers to unionize was a top priority for him. He said he would be looking for a candidate who would support and empower workers through public outreach.
“We need senators and we need legislators across the board to look at cooperatives as the solution that they are,” Marcroft said.
Related: An interview with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins