AFL-CIO prom­ises votes for Specter in re­turn for ‘card check’ sup­port

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

Angling for a crit­i­cal Se­nate swing vote to pass the “card check” bill that would make it eas­ier to form unions, Penn­syl­va­nia la­bor leaders promised Sen. Arlen Specter that they will switch union mem­bers from the Demo­cratic Party to the Repub­li­can Party to help him win a tough 2010 pri­mary elec­tion, The Wash­ing­ton Times has learned.

Penn­syl­va­nia AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent William M. Ge­orge said he pledged Mr. Specter “all kinds of help from the union” in a se­ries of meet­ings to woo the Repub­li­can se­na­tor’s sup­port for the bill, which would ease rules fa­vor­ing se­cret-bal­lot elec­tions to union­ize work­places.

“We are push­ing to give him help in the pri­mary, in­clud­ing chang­ing Democrats to Repub­li­cans for the pri­mary,” Mr. Ge­orge told The Times. “It’s hard to do be­cause of other races in the state […] but we’ll do it for ‘card check.’ “

The leg­is­la­tion is a top pri­or­ity for la­bor leaders now that they have a Demo­cratic ally in the White House ready to sign it into law, and the bar­gain­ing with voter regis­tra­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia shows how far the unions will go to se­cure victory.

Penn­syl­va­nia per­sists as a union strong­hold with 1.4 mil­lion union mem­bers and union re­tirees, ac­count­ing for more than 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion and one-third of house­holds. About 73 per­cent of the bloc is reg­is­tered Demo­cratic, ac­cord­ing to the state AFL-CIO.

Mr. Specter’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment specif­i­cally on Mr. Ge­orge’s prom­ise.

Mr. Specter pre­vi­ously said he would not bend to party loy­alty nor spe­cial-in­ter­est pres­sure but do what his con­science tells him is in the in­ter­est of the na­tion or the state.

“I’ve been in this line of work long enough so that peo­ple, thor­oughly stated, know that my arm’s not twistable,” Mr. Specter said ear­lier this month. “I’m go­ing to de­cide this on the mer­its, and I’m go­ing to hear ev­ery­body out. I’m still think­ing about it.”

He can ex­pect to suf­fer the union’s wrath if he op­poses the bill.

“If he votes against us,” Mr. Ge­orge said, “we will rise the in­ten­sity, pos­si­bly with an­other can­di­date and pos­si­bly an­other moderate in the Repub­li­can Party.”

The bill’s ad­ver­saries ac­cused the union of try­ing to buy Mr. Specter’s vote.

“It is sur­pris­ing in this era of change that any­one would be brazen enough to sug­gest a quid pro quo” of en­dorse­ments and other po­lit­i­cal sup­port, said Jerry Gorski, na­tional chair­man of the As­so­ci­ated Builders and Con­trac­tors, a group spear­head­ing op­po­si­tion to the bill.

“Why would the AFL-CIO throw their sup­port to a can­di­date based on one sin­gle is­sue?” he asked, ac­cus­ing the union of try­ing to “buy” Mr. Specter.

Mr. Specter is a cen­trist Repub­li­can whose vote is viewed by Democrats and union bosses as key to pass­ing the bill in the Se­nate, where a 60-vote thresh­old to move the leg­is­la­tion presents the largest and prob­a­bly only hur­dle for the most rad­i­cal change of la­bor laws in more than 60 years.

The leg­is­la­tion, dubbed the Em­ployee Free Choice Act, would al­low work­ers to form a union through ma­jor­ity sign-up of a union card — a “card check” — in­stead of the tra­di­tional se­cret-bal­lot polling.

Both sides of the de­bate agree that the change likely would ex­pand union mem­ber­ship in the coun­try, a boon for a la­bor move­ment whose ranks have dwin­dled to about 12 per­cent of the work force from the 20 per­cent it was 25 years ago.

The bill also beefs up penal­ties for em­ploy­ers who vi­o­late la­bor laws and im­poses bind­ing gov­ern­ment ar­bi­tra­tion to set­tle con­tract dis­putes.

Sup­port­ers say the leg­is­la­tion will ex­pand union mem­ber­ship and in­crease the qual­ity of life for mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans with bet­ter wages, ben­e­fits and work­ing con­di­tions. Crit­ics, in­clud­ing busi­ness groups mo­bi­lized to kill the bill, say it will crip­ple restau­rant, ho­tel and construction in­dus­tries, as well as myr­iad small busi­nesses, and put le­gions of work­ers in the un­em­ploy­ment line.

The unions and the busi­ness in­ter­ests have launched in­tense lob­by­ing and na­tional TV ad cam­paigns, and both groups are tar­get­ing Mr. Specter.

The leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced in the House and the Se­nate this month. Spon­sors said they did not have the 60 votes lined up to ad­vance the bill.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said he will wait un­til sum­mer to bring the leg­is­la­tion to the floor, giv­ing him and other back­ers time to wran­gle votes from mem­bers such as Mr. Specter and Sens. Blanche Lin­coln and Mark Pryor, both Arkansas Democrats wa­ver­ing on the bill.

Weigh­ing on Mr. Specter’s de­ci­sion about the bill is an ex­pected fierce pri­mary chal­lenge from his party’s con­ser­va­tive wing, pos­si­bly from Pat Toomey, pres­i­dent of the lim­ited-gov­ern­ment, low-tax-cru­sad­ing Club for Growth.

Mr. Specter, a six-term in­cum­bent, al­ready must fend off crit­i­cism from con­ser­va­tives for his piv­otal role cross­ing party lines to pass Pres­i­dent Obama’s $787 bil­lion eco­nomic stim­u­lus.

“For Specter, this vote will be the most mo­men­tous mo­ment since his in­ter­ro­ga­tion of Anita Hill,” said G. Terry Madonna, di­rec­tor of the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter at Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege in Lan­caster, Pa., re­fer­ring to the sen­sa­tional con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas.

“There’s no wig­gle room on card check,” Mr. Madonna said. “Typ­i­cally he gets some la­bor and some busi­ness sup­port. Ei­ther way he votes, he will alien­ate one of th­ese huge groups.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Try­ing to buy a se­na­tor? Arlen Specter

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