Labor orgs back hospital union leader to rep Albuquerque’s Westside in the Roundhouse

Democratic candidate Eleanor Chavez is tens of thousands of dollars ahead of election-denying Republican Patrick Sais in campaign donations

By: - October 12, 2022 12:58 pm

Early voting started on Tuesday and goes until Saturday, Nov. 5. General Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. (Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images)

With early voting underway as of Tuesday, New Mexicans are casting their ballots for statewide races, and for the N.M. House of Representatives, among other choices. Union leader Eleanor Chavez and small business owner Patrick Sais are vying to replace Democratic Rep. Georgene Louis.

Union campaign funders are pulling heavily for Chavez, a Democrat, to win the race to represent the Westside of Albuquerque in the Legislature. District 26 starts around Unser Boulevard and Interstate 40 and stretches slightly beyond the Bernalillo County line.

Chavez is focused on equal education access, lower prescription drug prices, and substance abuse and behavioral health resources to fight crime and homelessness, according to her campaign website. This wouldn’t be her first time in the Legislature. From 2009-2013, she served as the representative for District 13.

Sais, a Republican, said one of his top priorities is reducing crime by supporting and funding police, changing bail bond reform and electing stronger district attorneys and judges. He said he also wants to boost the quality of education in the state with more funding following students, and reduce inflation by limiting excess money going into the economy.

He’s also focused on election integrity, according to his website. He volunteered to work on Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, and said he believes Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 election. Sais cited the high number of people he heard would vote for Trump in New Mexico, as well as debunked videos claiming to show voter fraud.

This race is one of the few in the state House with no incumbent. Louis chose not to run again following an arrest in February on charges of drunk driving and other traffic-related offenses, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Campaign donations and where they’re coming from

Chavez far outpaced Sais in fundraising with $79,666 total contributions compared with his $1,121, according to the state’s campaign finance system.

All of Sais’ contributions are listed as anonymous. He said he’s not really trying to raise money and instead wants to win based on the principles he stands for.

“If you need money to be elected, does that really show that you’re for the people?” Sais said.

Nearly half of Chavez’s monetary contributions — about $38,416 — are from political committees, which can include political parties, legislative caucus committees and political action committees. Chavez is the executive director of the New Mexico Hospital Workers Union and has gotten over $15,000 from union PACs alone supporting her campaign.

Union PAC contributions

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 PAC spent $5,200 — the maximum allowed — on Chavez’s campaign, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation Committee on Political Education put in $3,500 and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Active Ballot Club pitched in $2,000.

The New Mexico Federation of Labor gave $1,500, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC put in $1,000, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen PAC gave $1,000 and Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 49 spent $1,000.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters pitched $500, UA Local 412 Plumbers & Steamfitters gave $500 and the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers chipped in $250.

Chavez said though campaign contributions don’t necessarily equate to her representing all of the donors’ interests, she believes all workers, whether they’re represented by a union or not, have the right to fair wages, decent benefits, safe working conditions and the right to work.

“What’s going to lead me is what’s right for workers,” Chavez said.

Teachers union President Ellen Bernstein said the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers backed Chavez in her past House campaigns, as well as her 2012 run for state Senate, which she didn’t win. She said it’s not surprising that other unions are supporting Chavez, too.

“The fact that she’s not just pro-labor but works in labor — meaning she’s dedicated to unions and what unions bring to workers all over the state — I think it goes without question that she would be supported by unions,” Bernstein said.

Sais said he also supports unions because they help when needed. But he said the unions contributing to Chavez’s campaign are supporting someone whose policies are failing the community and children, connecting Chavez’s past work in education to New Mexico’s dead-last ranking in education. He said if unions want that type of representation, it’s up to them.

“When the union backs the candidate on wrong principles, then I lose respect for the union,” Sais said.

Health care issues, worker shortages

Some of Chavez’s other biggest funders are organizations that support reproductive health care, including Planned Parenthood and New Mexico Families Forward PACs. Chavez told the Albuquerque Journal she supports codifying the right to abortion in N.M. statute.

Sais said people should be able to vote on a ballot about abortion rights. This is the same stance gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti has voiced in recent weeks, proposing a special election so New Mexicans can decide on the issue.

There’s also an ongoing health care worker shortage in New Mexico. To fix this, Chavez said the state needs to get more people interested in that kind of work. She suggested looking at others who are employed in the field, like cafeteria workers or housekeepers who may want to pursue health care programs, and supporting them to get an education. She also said better hospital working conditions and expanded health care education capacity at universities could help.

Sais spoke to the worker shortage overall. He said there are jobs available, but people just aren’t taking them, though he said he doesn’t understand how people are surviving when they’re not working. 

“There’s jobs out there. And they don’t want to work,” Sais said. “Is it the lazy generation? What is it? I don’t understand it. But we’ve got to get a handle on that.”

Labor shortage nationwide

Over a quarter million people of working age died from COVID, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, and millions more missed work, reduced their hours or retired early because of long COVID symptoms, research shows. 

He said there should be more educational opportunities for trade programs and less money dumped into the economy, like forgiveness of student loans and the Inflation Reduction Act, which he said is worsening the lack of workers in the state.

Chavez said a big reason there’s a worker shortage is because wages aren’t high enough, and the state may need to look at raising the minimum wage and should encourage businesses to pay fairly.

“People are saying that there’s a worker shortage. There really isn’t a worker shortage,” Chavez said. “There really is a living wage shortage.”

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.