U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Lynch poses with supporters at Dottie's Coffee Shop on Saturday morning.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Firefighters Association wants Stephen F. Lynch to be the first card-carrying union member on the U.S. Senate floor.
The union leaders greeted Lynch at Dottie's Coffee Shop on Saturday morning to show their support for his Senate bid. The 8th Mass District representative is vying for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Congressman Lynch is a working man. He came from labor, he was a steelworker for 18 years and he understands the problems of the middle and working class," President Tim Bartini of International Association of Firefighters Local 2647 said. "He understands the issues we have."
Local labor officials made up the majority of the crowd at Dottie's, giving Lynch a chance to express his views to the strong local organizations. The local electrical union, IBEW Local 2324, and General Electric retirees, IUE Local 254/255, were on hand.
"Technically, we don't take a stand on the primary so our executive board hasn't taken an official vote," said International Union of Electrical Workers Local 254/255 President Peter Menard. "But we stay active and we got an email saying he would be here so I came to meet him."
The underdog candidate in the Democratic primary (set April 30) has made a recent splash in the race by reeling in more than 40 union endorsements.
"I know what it is like to work hard. I know what it is like to work from week to week. I know what it is like to stand in unemployment lines," Lynch said of the support he's gained. "I've got a lot of the work ethic that you see out here in the Berkshires."
Lynch is running on a platform calling for tax reform to close corporate loopholes, incentivize companies to stay in the country and ending what he sees is unneeded spending.
"We've also built in, over time, incentives for companies to move their business off shore. Those are incentives the legislature has put in over the years into the tax code that is serving to export jobs," Lynch said. "There may have been a day in this country where we could afford to do that but that day has since passed."
Lynch said there are programs that Department of Defense leaders and the president have said are unneeded but they continue with support from congressmen in those districts only because they are putting people to work.
"You've got programs that are not needed that are being pushed for the purpose of creating jobs," said the South Boston native. "We've got to be smarter. I'd rather have our defense workers working on something we actually need than projects we don't."
Health insurance has also become a talking point for Lynch, who says medical manufacturer in his district is looking to expand into Ireland because the federal Affordable Care Act has loaded on too many taxes. The country is "fumbling away" an industry that is "perfect for Massachusetts," said Lynch, who broke with Democrats to vote against the act.
Lynch is calling for reform of the ACA because he says more and more companies will be trying to sidestep those taxes. Additionally, he believes billions could be saved with reform to federal employee health insurance benefits.
"Some of the federal employee health benefits are not only ripping off the employees but also ripping off the taxpayer because we don't have a competitive system," Lynch said. "I think we could save billions of dollars on our employee health."
But Lynch's overall message is that corporations have become too big and powerful that "regular folks" don't stand a chance. Banks are getting larger and larger and telecommunications and media are becoming more and more consolidated.
With the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, basically recognizing organizations have free speech rights, corporate interests have a much bigger play in Washington, Lynch said.
"We're not being treated fairly. They are using the public airwaves, the public spectrum and we're being ripped off in the process and that is because of the power of money in Washington," he said.
And with that, there has been the cultivation of a negative attitude toward unions.
"We've become a pariah. I don't get it. I don't understand that. These unions, all they are trying to do is to give workers a voice in the work place," Lynch said. "These companies are getting so big and so powerful that you don't have a prayer in negotiating with your employer unless you've got the opportunity for collective bargaining."
Lynch is a third-generation union man who believes that health care, wages and pensions negotiated by unions "sets the bar for non-union workers." He reminds voters that the eight-hour work day and 40-hour work week exist because of unions.
The middle class has been whittled away over the 15 years, he said, and where once a CEO made 60 percent more than the average worker, that has grown to 600 percent while wages have generally stayed flat.
"We are having a trend in this country of having a class of haves and have-nots. There are a whole lot of people in the have-not department," Lynch said, who says "a lot of the blessing in my life" came because his parents were union workers.
But despite reeling in so much union support, Lynch is still considered the underdog candidate. The congressional delegation's dean, U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey of Malden, wrapped up key Democratic endorsements on entering the race, including union backing from SEIU and the powerful Masachusetts Teachers Association, and, says Lynch, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
"The intent was clearly to clear the field for one candidate. They had chosen our next senator. Everybody dropped out, except for me," Lynch said. "If they are going to be success in picking out our next U.S. senator, then they are going to do it all the time."
With the Democratic backing for Markey, Lynch is distinguishing himself as an outsider to his own party.
"I know I am fighting an uphill battle, folks have called this a 'Braveheart' campaign. But given the challenges we have in Washington, I can honestly say the most important relationship in Washington is with the people who sent me there," he said. "I don't work for Nancy Pelosi, I won't work for Harry Reid. I work for the people who sent me there and sometimes that gets me in trouble. If I read a bill and I think it is bad, I vote against it. That puts me at odds with people in my party sometimes but, damn it, I don't represent the Democratic Party in Washington. I represent these people here."
Lynch says he won't be able to "outspend" Markey but he "will out work him."
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Clarksburg: Election, May 27; town meeting, May 28
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