Flickr/Creative Commons photo by Steve Baker.
Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly during a recent parade in Indianapolis. Donnelly, who has been a supporter of working families, is running for a second term.

Sen. Joe Donnelly appreciates organized labor’s strength, especially at one IBEW local union in northwestern Indiana.

Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly.

LaPorte Local 531’s office sits along a heavily-traveled section of U.S. 35, not far from both Lake Michigan and the Illinois state line. The Indiana senator has parked his campaign RV there at times throughout his career in the House and Senate so passing motorists can get a clear look at it.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with Joe,” Business Manager Harry Lowenthal said. “We trust him. These days, that’s hard to say about some politicians, but I know he’s out there doing what he feels is right.”

Donnelly, who has an 87 percent lifetime rating from the AFL-CIO and scored 100 percent in 2017, is running for a second term in the U.S. Senate. As expected, he’s in a tight race with Republican nominee Mike Braun, a business owner and former state legislator who has poured millions of his own dollars into the race and is supported by groups who have pushed for legislation harmful to working families. He also built his business by outsourcing the manufacturing of most products to foreign countries.

Many polls show Donnelly with a slight lead, but within the margin of error. Lowenthal and other IBEW leaders in the state like his chances, but agree that it is going to be close in a state where Democrats have little margin for error. This year is no time for members and their allies to relax.

“He’s a moderate,” said Indiana Political Director Mike Daugherty, a member of Gary and Hammond Local 697. “He can work both sides of the aisle. That has resonance with Democrats in this state.”

Donnelly served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2012, but he’s never been a rubber stamp for his own party. He sided with President Trump on 53.8 percent of his votes during the current Congressional session, the third-highest percentage by a Democratic member.

But no matter one’s politics, it’s clear Donnelly has been supportive of working families. He has spoken out against attempts to pass right-to-work laws on the federal level and to do away with the Davis-Bacon Act, which ensures workers are paid local prevailing wages on federally-supported construction projects.

He’s voted for legislation to increase the federal minimum wage and to make it easier to gain representation via card check, which allows workers to decide on joining a union by signing authorization cards instead of an election.

Daugherty and others said he gets high marks in Indiana for defending the Affordable Care Act, specifically the part protecting patients with pre-existing conditions. That’s a mild surprise in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016, but it shows that working people recognize Donnelly is willing to fight for their interests, they said.

“His vote on health care was important,” South Bend, Ind., Local 153 Business Manager Bill Haase said.

Indiana has long been a state heavily reliant on the coal and steel industries. It is the eighth-largest coal-producing state in the nation and has been the top steel-producing state for 43 consecutive years.

Donnelly sponsored the bipartisan Miners Pension Protection Act, which would keep the United Mine Workers’ pension plan solvent. His support of the coal industry is especially important in southern Indiana, where many members of Evansville Local 16 are employed at coal-fired power plants.

“Joe has always been a friend to working families,” Local 16 Business Manager Paul Green said. “He looks at all angles of an issue and does what’s best for the citizens of Indiana, no matter who authored the legislation. We need to keep Joe in Washington looking out for Hoosiers.”

He gets especially high marks for his support of the U.S. steel industry. Locals 153, 531 and 697 all have members employed at steel plants in northwest Indiana.

“We’ve just always felt that our steel industry is the most important thing, and both Joe and [Indiana Rep. Pete Visclosky, who represents Indiana’s steel-rich First District in the House] have been so good at protecting that.,” Lowenthal said. “They do what is necessary for the working man here in Indiana.”

Donnelly explained why during a speech on the Senate floor in 2016, when he co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to guard against foreign companies flooding the market with cheaply-produced steel, undercutting American companies and their workforces.

“Strong trade policies strengthen communities,” he said. “They ensure good employment for our workers and they maintain a level playing field to foster the kind of fair competition that leads to robust markets. However, as we know all too well, such policies only work when everyone plays by the same rules.”