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THE 1998 UE POLITICAL ACTION CONFERENCE

Visiting the Hill

CONTENTS

polact98_defend.gif (6691 bytes)

 

DELEGATES
PREPARED
FOR ACTION

Issues Discussed

In more than 60 meetings with members of Congress or their aides, UE members met with a full range of reactions: friendship, interest and support; confusion and indecisiveness; bland lack of commitment; polite lack of support; outright hostility.

Sen. Rick ("No Time for Workers") Santorum

If a snear
could kill...

Rally for Cross-Border Solidarity

Delegates took time to rally for coss-border solidarity, specifically to show their support for the Echlin Workers' Alliance NAO complain against the Connecticut -based Echlin Corporation.

It's Labor
Party Time!

'Building the Labor Party is a priority for UE,' said Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark. After meeting with Capitol Hill politicians, one delegate declared: "The Democrats and Republicans are bought and paid for; we have to do something different."

Progressives
Give Delegates
Briefing

Representatives Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and William Coyne (D-Pa) stress the real issues and threats facing working people ... and tell delegates to hold onto hope ...

NO SURPRISES:
MIXED RECEPTION

A New England delegation headed by District Two Pres. Judy Atkins urged Sen. James Jeffords (R., Vt.) to ask the owner of Bijur Lubricating in Bennington what his plans are for that plant. Employment has been halved as the owner has shipped work abroad and out-of-state.

The Senator agreed to contact both the owner and the National Labor Relations Board; UE has filed complaints against the company’s strong-arm giveback demands with the Board.

And Bob South, Local 234, warned Senator Jeffords’ office that his own shop, Fairbank Scales, may be headed in a similar direction.

A Midwestern delegation led by District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen raised the decade-long first-contract battle at Acme Die Casting with members of the Chicago-area Congressional delegation. Personally meeting with UE members, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D., Ill.) agreed to help Local 1116 reach a contract with Acme.

All but Republican John Porter (in whose district the plant is located) pledged their support for this campaign for justice.

With Local 120 facing tough negotiations with Locke Insulator later this year, District One leaders spent valuable time developing support and contacts among Maryland’s Congressional delegation. Faced with the prospect of a strike, the Baltimore union has no choice but to build political and community alliances, Butch Pridgen said. The responses were good; "in particular, Rep. Cardin gave us a personal commitment that he would be involved," Pridgen reported.

UE conference delegates also set their sights beyond national borders. Taking the conference theme "Defend Workers’ Rights Here and Abroad" to heart, delegates rallied on the steps of the Department of Labor offices in support of Echlin workers fired for daring to organize a union. Inside, the National Administrative Office conducted a hearing on complaints filed against Echlin by workers in three countries.

‘NO’ TO GAG BILL

Meeting with Rep. James Leach

Dialogue discloses divergent views as a UE delegation meets with
Rep. James Leach of Iowa (right); from left, District 11 Pres.
Carl Rosen and Matt Hanlon and David Leaming of Local 893-IUP.

UE members made strong arguments against the attempts of Congressional Republicans to limit labor's political activity by forcing unions to obtain written permission from each member. "This really scares me," Matt Hanlon, Local 893 told Rep. James Leach (R., Iowa). "This is a free speech thing."

"I elect people to Congress to do the best they can, and I elect people to union office to do the best they can," declared Robin Hall, Local 764, talking to an aide to Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.). "I don’t see how the government can tell us how to spend our money," Kathy Smith, Local 767, told an aide to Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) "We need a mechanism to inform our people," said Sherri Nelson, Local 791. She pointed out that the Republicans’ gag bill would curtail free speech.

Those who object to the union’s democratically-decided policies already have a way of registering their dissension, Al Harhay, Local 1111 reminded Rep. Gerald Kleczka (D., Wis.). With the gag bill, "Instead of a tiny minority having to fill out a form, everyone will have to sign a form." Harhay said.

The UE activists also registered strong protests against trade deals that threaten jobs. In particular, members of Congress who voted for "fast track" authorization heard from the union members. "He’s selling us out!" declared Mike Fortier, Local 295, telling an aide what he thought of Sen. Jeffords’ support for fast track.

Discussing the issues with Sen. Charles Robb

Don Wimmer, Local 123 (right) lays out UE’s views
on the issues for Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia (center).
Also taking part in the discussion are Field Org. George
Waksmunski and Dennis Grimm, Local 123.

Virginia UE members gave Sen. Charles S. Robb (D., Va.) generally high scores, but disagreed with his characterization of NAFTA as "good economic policy." "We countered by saying there’s no good economic policy without justice for the people in the workplace," said Don Wimmer, Local 123.

Giving UE members a sympathetic hearing, Rep. Sherrod Brown said, "The public is with us on these trade issues." A leader of Congressional opposition to fast track, the Ohio Democrat expressed his agreement with UE on numerous other issues.

RANGE OF REACTIONS

In more than 60 meetings with members of Congress or their aides, the UE members met with the full range of reactions: Friendship, interest and support; confusion and indecisiveness; bland lack of commitment; polite lack of support; outright hostility.

An aide to Rep. Phil English (R., Pa.) "pretty much song and danced us on every issue that we brought across, he didn’t really know the issues," said Donna Cramer, Local 506. An aide to Rep. Hobson (R., Ohio) "knew nothing about anything, absolutely nothing," noted Sherri Nelson, Local 791.

Meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter

ERIE COMES TO WASHINGTON as Donna Cramer
(center) hands Sen. Arlen Specter (right) 3,000 letters
from western Pennsylvania workers. Cramer, a Local
506 member, is political action co-chair for UE District 6.
With her are Mary Stewart, Local 618 and Don Kosobucki
and Wayne Burnett of Local 506.

District 11, with the largest delegation, had separate meetings with eight Congressmen and four House aides, and three Senators and three Senatorial aides, reported Shirley Harrison, Local 1135. The meeting with Sen. Feingold was a highpoint of these visits, Harrison said; the Wisconsin Democrat "doesn’t run from the issues, he was right-on with the issues, and he meets with us." A low point was Rep. Thomas Petri; while UE members were discussing the issues, the Wisconsin Republican was observed drawing pictures on cards. "That shows you how much interest he had in what was being said. And he was wrong on almost all of the issues," Harrison commented.

An aide to Rep. Jim Nussle (R., Iowa) "didn’t know anything, so she couldn’t answer any of the questions. And she failed to take down any notes so I guess she didn’t learn anything," Harrison said. When Nussle himself came in, he positioned himself under "a photo of the most right-wing Republicans ever elected; not only did he not listen to our people on the issues, he started yelling at them."

District Two delegates found that "basically one third agree with labor and labor issues," reported Brahm Muther, Local 218. Many of these are in labor’s camp only because "we have confronted them on the issues or other congressmen have dragged them along," Muther added.

"We did an excellent job of seeing our Senators and our Congressmen. Unfortunately, in a lot of areas, the congressmen didn’t do an excellent job of seeing us," Muther said. Of 11 appointments made for District Two delegates, only four were actually attended by the elected officials themselves.

The Vermonter told the conference that his Senator, James Jeffords was spotted slipping out the backdoor as the UE delegation walked into his office by the front door. "And for good reason — we’ve been after him on a lot of issues."

HUNTING MOPEY RICK

Sen. Santorum sneers at UE delegate

'UNAVAILABLE' — Sue Smock, Local 506,
reacts to Sen. Rick Santorum's contemptuous
indifference to her concerns. (Ron Flowers Photo)

District Six delegates were intent on confronting labor-hating Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum; the state’s junior Senator has been "unavailable" for three consecutive years for Capitol Hill discussions with UE members. The day after an unsatisfactory meeting with an aide, District Six members returned to Santorum’s office, where Sue Smock, Local 506 told a startled receptionist they intended to stay until the errant legislator met with them.

More than an hour passed by. A group of businessmen, who apparently had no difficulty in scheduling an audience with the Senator, came and went. Eventually Santorum appeared. Quickly surrounded by UE members, he begged off meeting, claiming pressing business on the Senate floor. "I’ll talk to you on the run," he said.

"So that’s what we did," reported Donna Cramer, Local 506. "We ran down the hall, down the stairs, on to the subway." The UE members dogged his footsteps, firing questions at him and crowding into a Capitol subway car beside their unhappy companion.

Asked about NAFTA and what the U.S. was going to do about the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs, Santorum snapped, "What do you mean, what are we going to do? There are government programs in place."

Asked if he supported the privatization ripoff of Social Security, Santorum smirked, "I guess I do."

"On the subway, flying through the underground, Mr. Santorum had to look in the eyes of labor to say he doesn’t give a damn about us," Cramer said.

‘REPRESENTED UNION WELL’

"You represented your union well," Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark told delegates as the conference came to a close.

Back home, Clark advised delegates, "tell the good stories, tell the bad stories, tell the bad stories twice" — and build the Labor Party.

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