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 dont 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 unions 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. "Hes selling us out!" declared Mike Fortier, Local 295, telling an aide what he thought of Sen. Jeffords support for fast track.
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 theres 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 didnt 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.
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 "doesnt 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) "didnt know anything, so she couldnt answer any of the questions. And she failed to take down any notes so I guess she didnt 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 labors 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 didnt 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 weve been after him on a lot of issues."
District Six delegates were intent on confronting labor-hating Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum; the states 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 Santorums 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. "Ill talk to you on the run," he said.
"So thats 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 doesnt 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.
-> UE News -> 1998
Archives -> Article