PHARR, Texas – If Ruben Ramirez does, indeed, lose his bid to become the next U.S. Representative for Congressional District 15 he might point the blame at a specific union member at PSJA ISD.
American Federation of Teachers activist Zachary Holzworth (pictured above) worked hard to ensure Ramirez did not win the endorsement of the Texas AFL-CIO, even though the Rio Grande Valley Central Labor Council voted 5-1 in favor of Ramirez.
Holzworth was the one member of the council to vote for Ramirez’s opponent in the Democratic Party runoff election, Michelle Vallejo. Usually, the Texas AFL-CIO will go with what the local labor council says.
“Once you get the endorsement of Texas AFL-CIO you do get a good amount of money and they offer other resources. They will send out mailers, they will get people to block walk, get people to phone bank. So my efforts probably did make a very, very, big difference,” Holzworth said.
Holzworth said he called Texas AFL-CIO President Richard Levy to say Vallejo was the true friend of labor in the race. Working with the Vallejo, Holzworth succeeded in getting the Texas AFL-CIO to stay neutral in the CD-15 runoff election.
“When you look at how close this race finished, for Ruben not to get the endorsement, that was huge,” Holzworth said.
Ed Sills, communications director for AFL-CIO, said he notion that a union member can call the president of Texas AFL-CIO and stop an endorsement is laughable.
Sills said it is just not true to say an endorsement can be swayed by a phone call to his organization’s president.
“The notion that you can call Rick Levy and stop an endorsement is just not the case. We have a committee of more than 50 people and they deliberate and it has to be a two-thirds consensus in order to make an endorsement.”
Sills said the way Holzworth described the lack of endorsement for Ramirez “kind of miscasts the series of events that led to there being no endorsement.”
The Rio Grande Valley Central Labor Council voted 5-1 in favor of recommending Ramirez to the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE). Holzworth was backing the other Democratic Party candidate in the CD 15 runoff election, Michelle Vallejo. Once the Valley labor council voted for Ramirez, Holzworth worked hard to make sure COPE, the AFL-CIO’s political arm, did not endorse him.
Sills pointed out that there are three central labor councils that have jurisdiction in Congressional District 15. In addition to the Valley labor council there is the Coastal Bend Central Labor Council and the San Antonio Central Labor Council.
“Two of the three did not make a recommendation at all (in the CD 15 race). The Rio Grande Valley Central Labor Council did recommend Ramirez,” Sills said.
“The COPE committee deliberated and decided not to make an endorsement at that time. It is possible that an endorsement could be forthcoming when the result of the runoff is finalized.”
Vallejo has claimed victory in the race. Her lead, after almost all the mail-in ballots and overseas ballots were counted shows her with a lead of just over 30 votes. Ramirez has not conceded and could well call for a recount. In messages on social media over the weekend, Ramirez was urging supporters to call in to make sure their ballot was counted.
Asked why PSJA’s AFT members went with Vallejo, Holzworth said: “When we were looking for a candidate to endorse we wanted a strong progressive, someone who would actually fight for working people. And when you look and compare Michelle and Ruben there is a stark contrast.”
Holzworth said Vallejo was “only taking money from people,” whereas Ramirez was “taking money from PACs, even corporate PACs.” He said that “tells you something about who is on the side of working people.”
Holzworth said he also liked Vallejo’s position on key policy issues.
“Michelle is in favor of Medicaid for All. She is in favor of raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Those are things Ruben really isn’t in favor of. Those are some of the reasons we endorsed Michelle over Ruben.”
Another reason for backing Vallejo, Holzworth said, was her passion for the Rio Grande Valley and its residents.
“We were really enamored with Michelle’s love for the Valley. Never before has a candidate really wanted to center the voices of the people of the Valley like Michelle. The Valley has sort of been marginalized in many, many ways, and Michelle sees beauty and dignity and worth in the Valley and that is something that is missing from most candidates that run in this area,” Holzworth opined.
Holzworth explained how his one-person crusade against Ramirez blossomed.
“The local unions are part of a body called the Central Labor Council, which is like a local affiliate of the Texas AFL CIO. At a meeting, a majority of the other unions, in fact everyone except me, voted to have Ruben Ramirez endorsed. I was so appalled. I reached out to Rick Levy, the president of Texas AFL CIO. I reached out to Evelyn Ramirez, the vice president of AFT, and I also reached out to people in Michelle’s campaign. And then Michelle and I kind of came up with a strategy on how we could stop this from happening because it was wrong. It would be so abominable for the house of labor in Texas to endorse a candidate who doesn’t really support working people. That is why I wanted to stop the endorsement of Ruben.”
Holzworth said he and Vallejo were helped by politicians at the state and the national level who were supportive of the underdog’s campaign.
“We came up with a plan where these politicians would also reach out to the Texas AFL-CIO, and then, through these back channels, we helped stop the endorsement of Ruben.”
Asked if his efforts made a big difference, Holzworth said: “Think about it, if you are a working person in a union and you get something in the mail or a phone call or a text message from someone at the Texas AFL-CIO saying this is the candidate of labor, that is probably going to sway you, especially if you are on the fence. So, I am really glad I played a role in stopping it because I know Ruben is not a friend of labor but Michelle definitely is.”
Holzworth added: “I am sure Michelle can beat Monica and so I am proud to be a part of this effort. We need her voice in Congress.”
The “Monica” Holzworth was referring to is Monica De La Cruz, the Republican Party candidate for CD 15. The seat is open because the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, chose to run in neighboring Congressional District 34.
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