- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2008

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

Gerald W. McEntee, president of one of the nation’s largest unions, said the labor movement was damaged when the FBI linked a competing union to Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s effort to sell Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat and it hurts labor’s push to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, unions’ big legislative priority.

“I don’t think it’s helped, let me say that on the record. I don’t think it’s helped,” Mr. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times, referring to allegations that the Service Employees International Union was linked to Mr. Blagojevich’s moves in Illinois. “It sure … is a shame it happened.”

Mr. McEntee said labor must guard against overreaching and should avoid warring with other Democratic-leaning groups - “to turn the other cheek on this and be more interested in the bigger picture,” he said - but he also said unions paid their dues by supporting Democrats and Barack Obama” href=”/themes/?Theme=Barack+Obama” >President-elect Barack Obama in this year’s election.

He said they expect that effort to be rewarded with action.

“The payback would be Employee Free Choice Act - that would be a vehicle to strengthen and build the American labor movement and the middle class,” he said. “It’s the condition of the country, it’s health care, it’s the Employee Free Choice Act, it’s some kind of effort made in protection of their pensions. These are big and major items.”

Mr. McEntee said his members understand the limits of the Senate, with its filibuster rules that the minority Republicans can use to block legislation, but said unions at least want to see a full-throttle effort.

“I think our people have to be able to see that the Democrats, including Obama, are fighting … for these kinds of things and not backing off or backing away.”

Mr. McEntee has been president of the 1.6-million-member AFSCME since 1981, and also is vice president of the AFL-CIO and chairman of its Political Education Committee. AFSCME mainly represents health care, and state and local government workers.

They have competed with SEIU over organizing some workers in Illinois, and Mr. McEntee was emphatic that his union has no relationship with Mr. Blagojevich, who was arrested and charged with trying to barter the Senate seat left vacant when Mr. Obama won the presidency.

“We at AFSCME don’t know a whole lot about it, we don’t have any personal or impersonal relationship with the governor. We are constantly in trouble and battle, battle state, with the governor of Illinois,” he said.

“I think it’s a shame what is happening in Illinois. I think it does some damage to Democrats. I think it’s kind of, it’s sort of harmful to Obama in that it takes away from what gives every appearance, and I think is, the best transition in power I’ve ever seen.”

The FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against Mr. Blagojevich said the governor “met with SEIU Official to discuss the vacant Senate seat.” The SEIU official is mentioned 13 times in the affidavit.

Already, pro-business groups are using the SEIU-Blagojevich link to try to hurt unions’ efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, also called card check, which would allow unions to be organized if a majority of potential union members signed cards supporting the effort.

Opponents object to the public nature of the process, arguing unions should be organized only by secret ballot.

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