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Mississippi labor unions rally for Brandon Presley ahead of governor’s race

Leaders of some of the state’s organized labor unions, a traditional bedrock of Democratic Party activism, encouraged their members on Saturday to support Brandon Presley’s campaign for governor.

Speaking near the state Capitol on Saturday, Robert Shaffer, president of the Mississippi branch of the AFL-CIO, said members should vote for Presley because he supports issues such as restoring the state’s ballot initiative and has listened to concerns the unions have raised in the past. 

“He’s a been there, down to earth guy,” Shaffer said of Presley. 

Several organized labor groups have endorsed Presley, a Democrat, and donated money to his campaign, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Presley, in return, has not shied away from the organizations and even touted them at the Saturday event.

“When we see the union label, it means American made,” Presley said. 

Mississippi, like many Deep South states, is a right-to-work state, which means participation in any union is voluntary and cannot be made a condition of employment. As a general rule, employment is at will, meaning that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason with a few exceptions. 

The Democratic candidate said Saturday his plans to reduce the state’s grocery tax, the highest such tax in the nation and reduce taxes for car tags would benefit the union members. 


He acknowledged, however, the Republican-dominated Legislature likely would not support efforts to repeal the state’s right-to-work law and remain skeptical of some labor reforms. 

“I’m not oblivious to the fact that Mississippi’s not going to create a Department of Labor or overnight become an organized labor state,” Presley said. “But I believe organized labor should have a fair chance to voice their concerns on issues.” 

Shaffer, the labor leader, also said members should not support Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ bid for reelection because he remained opposed to expanding Medicaid to the working poor. 

“What he’s done is left out the middle class trying to work for $7 or $8 an hour with no insurance,” Shaffer said. “In return, the only way they can get any help is to go to the emergency room, and they can’t pay the bills.”

Reeves, Presley’s Republican opponent, is one of the leading critics of Medicaid expansion and reiterated his opposition to the policy on Thursday morning to reporters at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob event. 

The governor said the state’s health care system could not sustain adding more people to Medicaid rolls, and he instead believes the solution to Mississippi’s low health insurance rate is to recruit more jobs to the state.

“We are going to continue to work to create more opportunities in our state,” Reeves said. “We’re going to continue to invest in our people through workforce development and workforce training because we want upward mobility for our people.” 

Francine Thompson, a senior field representative for the national AFL-CIO, told Mississippi Today on Saturday that volunteers from some of the labor groups are calling and visiting homes of other labor organization members, called “labor-to-labor canvassing,” on behalf of Presley. 

Over the next 10 days, they plan to strategically target people in Gulfport, Jackson, Marshall County and Tunica County. 

Certain Mississippians can cast in-person absentee ballots at county circuit clerk’s offices from now until Nov. 4, and the general election between Reeves and Presley will take place on Nov. 7. 


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