CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A labor union that represents thousands of retail workers across southern Ohio's 2nd Congressional District is backing Steve Black in the March 2008 Democratic primary. It's a bit of a stunner because Black had been a Republican until he switched parties to make the race. Black's campaign received a $5,000 check from the United Food and Commercial Workers, along with a letter that wishes him good luck and promises future assistance. Federal Election Commission records show the check was deposited in the Black campaign account two months ago.
Black's camp is now portraying the union's support as an "endorsement." He was with UFCW Local 1099 at a rally earlier this week in downtown Cincinnati. About 11,000 members of the union are employed by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. in SW Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana, and they have a midnight strike deadline. Kroger is threatening to hire replacement workers. The union has about 1.3 million members across the U.S.
Black is challenging 2006 OH-02 Democratic nominee Victoria Wulsin, who is running again. By backing Black financially in a contested primary, the UFCW seems to have signaled it has accepted him into the Democratic fold and believes he has stronger chance of ending GOP control over OH-02 than Wulsin.
The seat is now held by U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Clermont County, who has an opponent in her own party, Phil Heimlich, R-Cincinnati. The UFCW's Local 1099s letter told Black it has "trust" he would be a voice for working families. It arrived a week before he got the $5,000 donation from the national union. The letter says:
"Your active support of the right to bargain collectively, the fight against Wal-Mart, and the quest for better lives for working families will surely be an asset to our members. Best of luck in the coming months, we look forward to helping you take back this seat."
Joel Coon, Black's campaign manager, said the candidate met with the union and filled out a questionnaire before nailing down the union's support. Coon said it should allay concerns among Ohio Democrats that Black -- a partner in a downtown law firm with a corporate clientele -- is still tied to his Republican roots.
"I think it does. We're not free traders here. We need fair trade. They've been giving away the bank," Coon said, adding that Black has made economic justice a central theme of his campaign.