EXCLUSIVE: AFL-CIO pledges votes for Specter

EXCLUSIVE:

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 are registered Democrats, 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 last week. “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.

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