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Organized labor shows divided loyalties as KC mayoral campaign heads into final month

As Kansas City’s mayoral race enters its home stretch, organized labor is divided between the two candidates, who each picked up union endorsements on Wednesday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 500, which represents city employees who are not in public safety jobs, endorsed Councilwoman Jolie Justus, 4th District. Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, has the backing of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 3.

Justus and Lucas emerged from an 11-candidate primary last month and will face off in a general election June 18.

The two endorsements add to a growing list of unions in each candidate’s camp. While the city election is non-partisan, both contenders are Democrats, and each has a relationship and history with labor. Local unions have opted to support one candidate or the other for myriad reasons.

In a statement, Local 500 president Robert Patrick said the union knew Justus “has been with and for working men and women for years.”

“She was consistent in her support for city employees, including finding a solution that brought trash services in the Northland back under city control so the job gets done right the first time,” Patrick said. “We know that Jolie will fight for the economic and social justice issues that need to be addressed, because she’s been doing it for years.”

In the release, Justus said the union’s members “put in the work to keep Kansas City neighborhoods moving.”

“Our city employees play a critical role in waste and snow removal, keeping the water flowing, and keeping city services operating,” Justus said. “In return, we owe them a safe work environment, a livable wage, dignity in the workplace, and a comfortable retirement that allows them to spend their later years here in the city they call home.”

Justus is endorsed by the Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council, a consortium of unions, and the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council. AFSCME represents her first public employee union endorsement. Unions representing police officers and firefighters are backing Lucas.

Conversely, the painters endorsement puts a trade union in Lucas’ camp.

In a statement, the union’s director of governmental affairs, Jessica Podhola, said the group Lucas is “the bold leader that Kansas City needs to build a community that works for all of us, not just some of us.”

Podhola said it took the responsibility of endorsing seriously and that the safe course would have been to follow other construction trades or not endorse anyone, but it “decided to be bold.”

“We believe that Kansas City needs a bold leader so we remain an affordable and desirable place to live,” Podhola said. “We believe that bold action is needed to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to continue on their march for full accreditation. We believe that a bold future is within our reach if we have that decisive leadership in the Mayor’s office.”

The divisions mean neither Justus nor Lucas will get the endorsement of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, which could not reach consensus Tuesday night on who to endorse. The group requires a two-thirds majority to endorse a candidate, which neither received.

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