It's no secret that times are tough for public employees unions and that such groups need to foster support wherever they can. But in the effort to get pro-labor candidates into office, there may need to be some limits. For instance, regardless of his stances on workers' rights, one would assume unions would shy away from openly supporting a New York city councilman who's known largely for his support of human-rights-flouting dictators Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi—let alone spending money to campaign for him.
But that assumption would be incorrect.
Councilman Charles Barron is running in the Democratic Congressional primary to replace U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns. Two of New York's biggest public employee unions, District Councils 37 and 1707, have already endorsed Barron and now, according to the latest from Buzzfeed, their "federal parent union," AFSCME, is poised to spend money on the councilman's behalf.
Here's how Buzzfeed characterizes Barron:
The candidate, New York City Councilman Charles Barron, has made occasional appearances on the national stage — primarily Fox News — for his explosive statements about white people (he'd like to slap one, "for my mental health"), Jews (Black people are the real "Semites") and foreign policy. But Barron, a self-described "revolutionary Pan-Africanist" who donned a red Nehru jacket with gold braid to receive the brutal Zimbabwean dictator at City Hall in 2002, has also been a steadfast ally of New York civil servants, many of them African-American and living in his East New York and Brownsville district.
Among his national incidents was the time he greeted Mugabe at New York's City Hall in 2008 as the Zimbabwean dictator was receiving international scorn for intimidation and brutality during the country's elections. More recently, upon the death of Libyan dictator Qadaffi in November, Barron eulogized Qaddafi, and according to the The Brooklyn Ink, called the brutal dictator a "freedom fighter" before prompting a crowd to chant "Long live Muammar Qaddafi." Somewhat ironically, given his support for these brutal regimes, Barron has also come under attack for his statements condemning Israeli policy and comparing the Jewish state to Nazi rule.
Barron, currenly on New York's city council, has defended the city's public employee unions, but it's not as though Barron's opponent, Hakeem Jeffries, is a right-to-work activist. He's just a moderate Democrat who's supported charter schools—which unions often dislike.
It's problematic enough that the unions are endorsing Barron, but by campaigning openly for him, AFSCME aligns itself with problematic public figure and risks alienating other supporters. It's hard to see how this move is going to be a win for public employees. Instead, it simply bolsters the anti-union perception of labor as a movement of extremists out for themselves. This is sure to lose public workers some friends, at a time when they can use all the friends they have.