A gala fund-raiser for Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is prying open a deep fissure in Northwest Indiana's construction unions.
Some union locals are crying foul over a full-page ad in newspapers last week listing the Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council as a sponsor of the $500-a-plate fundraiser to take place Friday night at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville.
Mike Campbell, president of Laborers' Locals 81 and 41, said many of his 3,000 members are furious because the ad gave the impression all 33 union locals in the council are supporting Daniels and the gala.
In fact, Laborers' locals in Indiana have endorsed Democrat Jim Schellinger and donated $126,000 to his campaign, Campbell said.
Campbell called Friday's gala "an anti-living-wage, anti-working-family event."
Local 81 is based in Valparaiso and Local 41 in Hammond. The locals cover Lake, Porter, Jasper, Newton, Starke and LaPorte counties.
Ironworkers Local 395 business manager Jim Stemmler also called The Times shortly after the ad appeared and said his local and the Ironworkers' state council have endorsed Schellinger.
When contacted Monday, Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council President Chris Hernandez said the council's $50,000 gala sponsorship has come entirely from funds raised by individual locals and labor councils.
"It's a sponsorship for the dinner; it's not a building trades endorsement," Hernandez said.
However, some individual locals within the council have endorsed Daniels.
Gala organizer Dan Dumezich said $400,000 already has been raised through sponsorships, as well as table and dinner purchases. The former state legislator from Schererville said he is confident it can break the $500,000 mark, making it the largest gubernatorial fundraiser conducted in Northwest Indiana.
"The fact is the building trades council and all the unions under them are supporting the governor at this event," Dumezich said Monday. "And that's a tough cookie for some of them to swallow."
Crown Point billionaire Dean White also is a $50,000 sponsor of the event, as are the Northwest Indiana Contractors Association and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.
Campbell said Laborers' Locals 81 and 41 plan to have protesters outside the Radisson on Friday.
Daniels will be the Republican candidate for governor in November. Schellinger is facing off against Democrat Jill Long Thompson in the Democratic primary May 6. The winner will face the governor.
Daniels came to the Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council in late January to ask for its support, Hernandez said.
The next week, the council's vice presidents' committee met and approved the council's gala sponsorship, he said. However, it was agreed no council money would be used. Instead, individual labor councils and locals were able to donate to the event to support the council's sponsorship, Hernandez said.