By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Martha Coakley on Tuesday won the endorsement of a janitorial and building security union, voicing support for fair treatment of workers while declining to take a definitive stand on the MBTA janitorial staffing issue the union has championed.
“I’m still the attorney general, so we’ll let the administration deal with those circumstances,” Coakley told the News Service after a campaign event where she received the endorsement of SEIU 32BJ District 615.
The union has in recent weeks been waging a steady and often loud campaign to stave off a switch in September to new MBTA cleaning contract language that they say will result in nearly 100 layoffs.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, who has met with the union, has defended the new contract, which measures the cleaning companies based on services provided without the same minimum staffing requirements in prior contracts.
Union director Roxana Rivera said the union is meeting with MassDOT and MBTA officials with the hopes that the planned layoffs will be avoided, and said Coakley’s “track record” supporting workers tipped the scales toward her receiving an endorsement.
“The Democratic candidates all have been supportive of workers, but we think Martha Coakley will be the best candidate for governor,” Rivera told the News Service. She said, “She’s had the opportunity to really put talk to action.”
With two weeks until the Sept. 9 primary, Coakley leads her opponents Steven Grossman, the state treasurer, and Don Berwick, a former pediatrician and health care policy expert, though Grossman ate into her lead in a Suffolk University poll released Monday.
Grossman has criticized Coakley most recently on what he says is a favorable deal given to Beacon Hill lobbyist The Brennan Group, a one-time Coakley political benefactor that repaid $100,000 in allegedly illegal contingency lobbying fees out of more than $370,000 in alleged illegal contingency payments.
“Martha Coakley has demonstrated a clear pattern of poor judgment, whether it’s letting a well-connected lobbyist profit from breaking the law, negotiating a health care merger that will drive up premiums on consumers and employers for years to come, or failing to properly manage her own campaign finances,” said Grossman in a statement Tuesday seeking a “full account” of money Brennan raised for Coakley. “Even worse, she has failed to admit how much money a lobbyist, apparently too connected to fail, has raised for her political campaigns over the years. ‘LobbyGate’ is Beacon Hill at its worst, and Martha Coakley is the star actor in this drama.”
Union members may know Coakley from her role enforcing labor laws. In August, Coakley and Grossman voiced support for 32BJ union members seeking better working conditions at Logan International Airport. In July, according 32BJ, the attorney general ordered Logan contractor ReadyJet to pay employees a $13,045 restitution and a $5,000 civil penalty.
The union has spoken up at MassDOT meetings and held a rally at the State House on the imminent layoffs of MBTA janitors, though the issue was not raised by speakers at the downtown union offices on Tuesday.
“Fighting for good jobs at places like the MBTA is very important to us,” Rivera told the News Service when asked why the issue was not raised. Rivera said candidates were asked about state procurement practices. District 615 represents 18,000 New England property workers.
“I certainly am going to look at all of our circumstances, not just at the T. But as an employer of many people across the state, looking at those circumstances, what we need to do,” Coakley said. She said, “One of the key things is fairness.”
Drawing on a speech she gave to a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Coakley aligned herself with wage earners on issues such as mandatory earned sick time, a question that will appear on the November ballot.
“I reminded everybody at that breakfast that although they have often a vacation home or a second home, and did not worry about earned sick time, right? Nobody worries about that downtown in Boston,” Coakley said. She said, “I believe Massachusetts can be prosperous and fair,” and said, “I know you have my back and I will have yours.”
Coakley has already received the endorsement of 1199SEIU, which claims to be the largest local union in the world, with 400,000 members stretching down the East Coast to Florida, a group that could potentially aid Coakley’s get-out-the-vote organization in the lead-up to the election.
“I have always admired and worked with SEIU and their divisions. They understand the importance of organizing,” said Coakley, who said “people will pay attention to ideas and organizing.”
Coakley threw her arms in the air as the assembled workers cheered her candidacy, and later posed for photographs with the workers.
“Massachusetts needs us,” said Jorge Rivera, an MBTA janitor.
“We came to make Massachusetts and the United States better for us,” said Larissa Rodriquez, an airport work. She said, “She can do better for us.”
“With her I feel sure that all immigrants will have support,” said Margarita Restrepo, a cleaner at Whidden Hospital in Everett.
Previously opposed to the idea of providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, Coakley said she has “an open mind as to where we go, because we’re not going to get a federal solution,” and would appoint someone to oversee immigrant issues in her administration. Coakley supports efforts in Boston and Somerville to step back from cooperating with a federal immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, which critics say sows fear of police in immigrant communities.