The labor union that forms the backbone of opposition to Republican plans to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor store system gave more than $140,000 to state-level candidates in 2012, including plenty of campaign cash to some high-ranking Republicans.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which counts about 3,000 state liquor store employees among its members, is the most visible and vocal opponent of House Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s (R-Allegheny) call to privatize the state-owned liquor monopoly.
And with Gov. Tom Corbett in support of privatization and the GOP in control of both chambers of the General Assembly, the union must rely on more than just Democratic support to keep privatization proposals at bay.
A review of campaign finance records by PA Independent found the union gave more than $12,000 to Republican candidates in 2012—much of it targeted at key figures in the state House. As expected, the union gives more heavily to Democrats, who collectively received more than $40,000 in contributions.
Wendell Young IV, president of UFCW Local 1776, said Thursday that his union is not a single issue entity, but acknowledged that the privatization of the liquor stores is their top issue.
He said the union follows general guidelines published by the AFL-CIO, a conglomerate of many smaller trade unions, to determine which candidates to support.
“We look at pro-labor votes and their support of workers’ issues,” Young said. “Democrats more often score better than Republicans, but we support candidates on both sides.”
State Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) received $2,700 from the UFCW this year—all of it during the primary cycle, when he did not have an opponent.
Vereb is one of the House Republicans’ top fundraisers and made no bones about the support he receives from the UFCW, but he said contributions from any source do not dictate his views on policymaking.
“People are allowed to have different views and money does not determine those views,” he said Thursday. “Taking contributions from anyone doesn’t determine my vote.”
When it comes to liquor issues, Vereb said he favors increasing access for his constituents and all resident of the state. What form that takes—public or private—will be the subject of discussions with House leaders and other public officials, he said.
But there is another connection between Young and Vereb that helps explain the high level of contributions to the Republican representative: Young lives in Vereb’s district.
In interviews, both men acknowledged a mutual respect that dates back to Vereb’s time as his days on the West Norriton Board of Supervisors.
“Mike’s got a good record,” Young said.
Behind Vereb, the top GOP recipient of campaign cash from the UFCW was state Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia), chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee. It’s not hard to figure out why he would be targeted by the union.