Teamsters council endorses Whitmer for governor

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit — Democrat Gretchen Whitmer was endorsed Friday by the Teamster’s dominant Michigan Joint Council, a development that helps the ground game for the former state Senate Minority Leader over union rollbacks under Republican rule.

Led by International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, various Teamsters local members from around the region came to the Motor City Casino’s Sound Board Theater to show their support for Whitmer, a candidate “that’s going to change the whole complexion of this state,” said Teamsters Joint Council #43 President Greg Nowak.

The 65,000-member Teamsters Joint Council #43 represents workers including as many as 13 Michigan locals representing workers such as freight drivers and warehouse workers. Last year, Whitmer received an early endorsement from Teamsters Local 299-Detroit.

“We’ve had eight terrible years,” said Hoffa, to chants from members of his famous surname. “We need money for our elders. We need money for our veterans. We need money for our teachers. We need money to fix the potholes. We’ve got a chance to do it, but only if we get hard and get behind the candidate of the future.”

Whitmer said she is “fed up with the state of Michigan and where we are at right now.”

“We deserve better,” she continued. “I got in this race for governor because I love the state of Michigan. I think we need to remember that it was labor that built the middle class in Michigan and that people moved to Michigan to be a part of. You knew that when you moved to Michigan you had a good job that paid you well-enough to raise your family up and retire with dignity in this state.”

Whitmer said Michigan is not that state anymore under nearly eight years of Gov. Rick Snyder. “Let’s make Michigan a state where working people can get ahead,” she said.

In an interview with The Detroit News before the event, Hoffa said Whitmer is a walking success story, especially in elections.

“She’s won everywhere she’s gone, whether it’s the House, the Senate, everything she’s done,” said Hoffa, who is from Michigan. “She’s a winner, she’s a leader and I think she’s exactly what we need to run for governor in Michigan right now. Michigan is at a crossroads. We’ve been through a lot. Some of the people running want to go backwards.”

The latest Teamster endorsement adds to the backing from 13 other statewide labor groups and unions representing more than 410,000 Michigan workers, according to Whitmer’s campaign. The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest education employees union, supported her campaign in January.

Abram Rahaman, 70, a Teamsters driver in the Local 337, said he’s excited about Whitmer’s candidacy.

“What they are doing here is they are trying to strip everything that we work hard for away from us,” Rahaman said of the GOP-controlled Legislature that helped make Michigan a right-to-work state in 2013. “I think Gretchen’s going to do a good job by putting us back on our feet. We lost a lot of jobs, especially in the film industry. We were doing good here.”

The Teamsters’ endorsement further cements Whitmer’s status as the Democratic front-runner after Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last week threw his support behind her.

The endorsement was a turnaround for Duggan, who along with others had urged Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township to get into the governor’s race. Peters declined, saying last month he is focused on his current job of representing the people of Michigan in the Senate.

Whitmer leads all early polls of the Democratic primary field that includes Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar, former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed and former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs.

But Thanedar has loaned himself almost $6 million of his own money and launched a Super Bowl advertising campaign in a bid to raise his name identification statewide. The 30-second halftime spot, titled “the name game,” used self-deprecating humor to introduce the Indian immigrant to voters by poking fun at difficulties pronouncing his name.

Nina Bugbee, the leader of Teamsters Local 332 in the Flint region, described Snyder’s tenure as being marked by eight years of “demoralizing, oppressive, union-busting.” among a few words. That would change under Whitmer, she said.

Bugbee said Hoffa’s recommendation carries significant weight with Teamster members. “When he gives the green light, he’s done his homework,” she said.

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