Arkansas’s largest organized labor group, the AFL-CIO, is backing Democratic U.S. House candidate Dianne Curry. The second district candidate’s campaign made the announcement on Thursday following written confirmation of a vote by the labor group earlier this month.
Curry says she hopes to boost the voice of organized labor in the coming election, “we really have to come back around to the fight for the American family.”
“A lot of those people have really set the tone for many years,” says Curry referring to steelworkers, plumbers and pipefitters. “People that work together for a cause can get their message across. It is part of our history and people got to fight for their rights. If they don’t have a labor group there, then 9 times out of 10 they’ll never get them.”
A letter from Arkansas AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes to members announced the group’s intent to organize on behalf of Curry before November elections. It followed a meeting earlier this month that was closed to the public.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dianne Curry, Candidate for U.S. Congress, District 2, received the unanimous endorsement of the Arkansas AFL-CIO delegates at our Special Convention on May 13th, 2016. The endorsement was based on her ability, qualifications and her position on issues of primary interest to working men and women.
It is very important that we give Dianne Curry all of our support and help in any way possible to win this race.”
Enacting laws to make joining a union easier, expand paid sick leave, and to raise the minimum wage are among Curry’s Congressional objectives for labor. Curry says it’s time to start thinking about making the ‘minimum wage’ into a “living wage.”
However, Curry says that doesn’t mean she isn’t concerned about the ability of businesses to adjust.
“Whatever amount that is better than what the wages are now is going to be an improvement. $15 an hour is not a bad way to go but I know it would have to be negotiated to make sure businesses are able to take care of that,” says Curry. “But we want businesses not just to be profitable but also to make sure they take care of our families and people that work for them.”
Curry faces Republican incumbent French Hill and Libertarian Chris Hayes. Rep. Hill's campaign did not respond to a request for comment but as a House candidate in 2014 he voted against a state ballot measure to gradually raise Arkansas's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. Prior to casting his 2014 ballot, Hill told KUAR he believes the idea of a minimum wage can harm economic growth.
“I’m not in favor of increasing the minimum wage because I don’t want to see any barriers to creating early employment and creating more jobs and the Congressional Budget Office, even in their most conservative assessment, says it’ll cost about a half million jobs nationwide,” said Hill.
Curry’s ties to organized labor go beyond ideological alignments on issues like having a minimum wage. She says her father was a union laborer at a metal shop in the unincorporated Hot Springs County town of Jones Mill during her youth.
But most Arkansans these days don’t have much of a direct relation with organized labor. A 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report found Arkansas had the sixth-lowest union density of any state with 6.5 percent of workers represented by a union.