Tom Wolf says he fully supports organized labor, but the multi-millionaire businessman is finding himself to be a tough sell to unions as he fights a crowded field of primary challengers for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Wolf’s business, the WOLF company, is the largest distributor of kitchen and bath cabinetry in the U.S. It’s also non-union, which is politically problematic. Wolf campaign spokesman Mark Nicastre sent Media Trackers an email stating, “Tom believes his workers are key to his company, and that’s why he invests in them with living wages and strong health and retirement benefits. And Tom shares between 20-30 percent of the company’s profits with his employees.”
To the leaders of organized labor, however, there is never justification for having a non-union workforce. Big Labor, in fact, has lined up solidly behind Wolf’s Democrat rivals. State Treasurer Rob McCord enjoys the broadest union support, with backing from PA AFSCME, PA Teamsters, the PA State Corrections Officers Associations (PSCOA), and a slew of local union chapters. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz bears endorsements from a number of unions as well.
Nicastre was eager to note that Wolf has been endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 229 out of York County. Chalk that up, however, to a mere manifestation of the old Tip O’Neill adage that all politics is local, similar to Ed Pawlowski’s having been endorsed by Iron Workers Local 420, which represents his hometown’s workers, even though Pawlowski had no chance of winning (Pawlowski recently withdrew and threw his support to McCord).
Wolf is himself by far the largest source of his campaign’s money. So far he’s thrown $10 million of his own money into the race, a figure that might be unseemly to blue-collar workers making $500 a week. Worse still is that he’s hauled in some serious dough from fellow businessmen running non-union enterprises. Wolf collected $25,000 from Ola Yoder, CEO of Kountry Wood Products in Indiana, which happens to be one of the nation’s 24 right-to-work states. Bon-Ton’s chairman of the board, Tim Grumbacher, contributed a cool $1 million to Wolf.
“I know political donations are usually suspect, but I would hope people know I did this because I really believe he’s the best guy for the job,” Grumbacher said.
Wolf gets credit for having brought his family’s business back from the brink of financial disaster and saving hundreds of jobs. Had the company unionized during its time of tribulation, a revival probably would have been impossible. Therein lies the rub for Wolf, which his campaign advisors are cognizant of. Though it isn’t even Valentine’s Day, Wolf is already spending his vast fortune to win over working-class Democrats with televisions ads focused on how well he treats his employees. “It’s a six-figure buy on broadcast and cable in the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg-York-Lancaster, Scranton-WB, and Johnstown-Altoona-State College markets,” Nicastre told Media Trackers.
Political analyst Ryan Shafik of Rockwood Strategies, a Republican firm, didn’t pull any punches in assessing Wolf’s dilemma: “Tom Wolf’s candidacy constitutes classic liberal hypocrisy on par with global warming guru Al Gore burning through 200,000 kilowatt-hours to heat his 20-room palace and pool house, and pro-union pundit Michael Moore outsourcing his post-production to Canada to avoid union wages. ”
Whether or not Wolf can gain traction remains to be seen, but he will certainly be sledding uphill from now until the May 20th primary election.