Despite Loss, Randy Bryce Emerges as America’s Most Well-Known Labor Leader

OAK CREEK, WISCONSIN – For the last stop of his campaign, Randy Bryce, the ironworker who rose to fame pushing Paul Ryan into retirement, chose the UPS facility at shift change time.

While Bryce’s campaign garnered national attention with Bryce appearing on Netflix specials with Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman, Bryce wanted to be with working folks as he closed out his landmark campaign.

Just a few years ago, Bryce had been on the other side of the handshakes as a rank-and-file Ironworker.

Now, Teamsters jumped with joy as they walked out of the plant gates and saw their hero.

“Man, that’s Randy Bryce, that’s my boy,” exclaimed Teamsters Local 334 member Dan Cooper as he asked another worker to take a photo with him.

Another Teamster came up and hugged  Randy as he showed off his lunch pail spouting a “Randy Bryce Made for Working Families” bumper sticker alongside a “Stand with Wisconsin” logo from the dark days when labor rallied and occupied the Wisconsin State Capitol in that cold winter back in 2011.

“Randy is a big supporter of unions. Republicans are fighting the unions and he’s someone with our voice and that’s exactly what we need right now,” says Teamsters member Robert Treelore. “It feels like we have one of us in there and we need that”.

The enthusiasm cheers up Bryce as he nervously waited for the election result.

However, there is one worker that Bryce wishes could be there today with him: recently deceased Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.

On Sunday, Neuenfeldt, who led Wisconsin labor during the Wisconsin Uprising in 2011, died of cancer at the age 67.

“He was just so committed to labor and especially when Walker pulled all that crap, he was not gonna take it and that’s what we needed was someone as committed as he was, who did whatever to fight back,” says Bryce.  

Neuenfeldt inspired Bryce to get more involved during those dark days in the winter of 2011.

“Anytime you have someone like that, who’s not afraid to back down, that encourages you more,” says Bryce.

“He was Big Labor Phil. He was a big guy, but just a gentle giant,” says Bryce. “Whatever was needed, he always showed up even when we disagreed” 

Bryce says he also admired how Big Phil would work through disagreements over tactics.

“There were a couple issues we disagreed on and we would always talk about it. If we disagreed, we would find ways to get on the same page or least know where each other was coming from”.

While Bryce lost today, his loss may be phyrric victory for anti-union forces. 

Bryce’s run for Congress that forced Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to retire out of fear of defeat had a huge impact on politics.

Bryce is easily one of the most well-known labor leaders in America.

With more than 280,000 Twitter followers, Bryce has more than 4 times as many Twitter followers as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who has 65,000 followers and more than the most viral union president in the U.S., American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has 85,000 followers.

Unions across the country have invited Bryce to speak at conferences he has quickly become one of their most popular speakers.

Outside of forcing Paul Ryan into retirement, his campaign set other precedents by becoming the first campaign to sign a collective bargaining agreement with temporary part-time campaign staff; creating a trend that led dozens of other Democrats to follow suit.

Earlier today, Randy told me that win or loss, he hopes that his race encourages more working class people to run for office.

“That’s what this is all about. It’s about not just being asked to be part of the backdrop,” says Bryce, referencing how blue-collar workers are regularly used as props for the photos ops of politicians. “But it’s about workers grabbing the microphone”

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild and is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and has written for the New York Times. He also writes for The Guardian.

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