A Democratic primary to watch

Rachel M. Cohen updates us on an interesting development in a Texas congressional district that is solidly Democratic but where the incumbent Henry Cuellar seems more like a Republican.

While Cuellar is more commonly known for voting to support a 20-week abortion ban and funding a Mexican border wall in his own southern Texas district, his record on labor issues has driven worker advocates crazy for years.

In May, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill that would eliminate right-to-work laws, impose new penalties on employers who retaliate against union organizing, crack down on worker misclassification, and establish new rules so employers cannot delay negotiating collective bargaining contracts.

The bill has 214 Democratic co-sponsors, and Cuellar is not among them.

He was one of the few Democrats not to co-sponsor the $15 minimum wage bill the House passed this summer, and while he ultimately voted for its passage, he also voted for an unsuccessful amendment that would have exempted millions of workers from the law.

Cuellar has also criticized many of the signature labor reforms of the Obama era — including expanding overtime pay to 4 million workers and holding corporations liable for the violations of their franchisees. He’s one of just three Democrats to co-sponsor legislation restricting the definition of a joint employer, which would make it harder for workers at franchised companies to unionize and hold large corporations accountable.

But this time a young labor activist Jessica Cisneros has launched a primary challenge to Cuellar and she has scored endorsements from Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But more significantly she has got an endorsement from the Communication Workers of America District 6 and has been invited to speak in Austin at a political rally hosted by AFSCME Local 1624. Cuellar was not invited. Why is this significant? Because the big labor organizations have traditionally allied themselves with the Democratic party establishment of which Cuellar is a part.

This primary is going to be a good test of whether the party establishment can fight back the insurgent threat posed by young progressives. They feel that they were taken by surprise and blind-sided by the insurgents in the 2016 election cycle but this time they have vowed to fight hard to protect incumbents, even the most awful ones like Cuellar and Dan Lipinski in Illinois. Lipinski is also facing a strong primary challenge from Marie Newman in 2020.

Wins by Cisneros over Cuellar and Newman over Lipinksi would send a definite signal to the party leadership that their days of coasting along being Republican-lite are over and that they need to realize that the party has shifted under their feet.

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