Democratic candidates promise union jobs

Three Democratic candidates for governor made their pitches to an influential labor group Monday, each promising to step up efforts to create high-paying union jobs in Maryland.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County each stressed their records of support for organized labor as they addressed a candidate forum put on by the Maryland-D.C. Building Trades Council at the Turf Valley Resort in Howard County.

The three did not appear together before council delegates, who will decide which candidate to recommend for the state AFL-CIO's endorsement. Instead, the candidates went on one after the other, without their rivals in the room.

That didn't stop them from getting in digs at their opponents.

Gansler, who will formally announce his candidacy Tuesday, criticized as too weak an executive order issued last week by Gov. Martin O'Malley — Brown's chief political ally — on project labor agreements. Such agreements, which set the wages and working conditions for major public projects in a way that usually benefits union labor, are supported by the building trades but opposed by Republicans and some business groups.

Gansler dismissed O'Malley's order as "an executive suggestion," and he promised to increase the state's use of such agreements. "It's not about helping you," he told the union members. "It's about helping every working family in this state."

Brown defended the order as a step forward, along with a decision to adopt a labor agreement for a new juvenile detention facility in Cheltenham in Prince George's County.

"Just like Cheltenham, [project labor agreements] are going to have a shot at every project in a Brown-Ulman administration, said Brown, whose running mate is Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

The lieutenant governor launched the most direct attack of the day, criticizing Gansler for his lack of support for the O'Malley administration's successful effort this year to raise the gas tax to fund transportation projects that bring jobs to the building trades.

"That's how we put you to work," Brown said. Without the increase, he said, many of the projects announced by the administration in recent weeks "wouldn't happen."

Mizeur, trying to beat the odds stacked against a legislator vaulting to the state's top job, promised to bring sweeping change to Annapolis with aggressively pro-labor policies.

"I'm going in there to blow the doors off the place to create some transformational change," she said.

She stressed her family roots in the labor movement, speaking about time she spent as a girl on the picket line with her father, a union welder.

The two-term lawmaker criticized the administration for refusing to adopt her idea to create a fund to boost enforcement of the state's laws guaranteeing payment of the prevailing wage on public projects. "This administration opposed it and fought it tooth and nail," she said.

Joined by Gansler, Mizeur criticized the administration for reducing the number of employees who enforce prevailing wage laws, another hot-button issue for the building trades. Brown countered by announcing that O'Malley would provide money in next year's budget to beef up the enforcement staff.

Brown also pointed to the General Assembly's passage of legislation promoting the use of public-private partnerships to finance major projects – an issue on which he has taken a leading role, He told the unionists that the bill passed with a provision guaranteeing the prevailing wage on such projects at his insistence.

Republican candidates for governor were not included but may be invited for a separate event, said Rod Easter, president of the Baltimore Building Trades Council.

The union delegates also heard Monday from a panel of four Democrats seeking the nomination for attorney general.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County and Dels. Jon S. Cardin of Baltimore County, Aisha Braveboy of Prince George's County and C. William Frick of Montgomery each stressed their support of labor.

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