- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

The unions’ pope

The unions may be losing Democrats in pursuit of their No. 1 legislative priority, but they say one powerful ally remains on their side: God.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would ease union organizing rules, is widely supported by Democrats who control the House, the Senate and the White House, but progress on the bill has stalled in light of the economic downturn and the 2010 elections.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, Louisiana Democrat, who may challenge Republican Sen. David Vitter in 2010, is the latest to fall off the EFCA wagon.

The Hill reported Wednesday that Mr. Melancon, a co-sponsor of the House version of the EFCA, is working on a “bipartisan solution” to amend the bill in a way that would make it more appeasing to business groups.

Likewise, Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, who filled Ken Salazar’s Senate seat when he was named interior secretary and is running for re-election in 2010, has said he would have a “hard time” voting for cloture on the bill, because of the burden it would impose on businesses. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat and another 2010 candidate, said in April that she “cannot support the bill in its current form.”

While support for the bill appears to be dwindling on Capitol Hill, the unions are playing a trump card.

The AFL-CIO issued a press release Wednesday lauding a papal encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI that calls for increasing the size and strength of union forces.

“Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions,” the pontiff wrote. “Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights, must therefore be honored today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.”

The AFL-CIO said the pope’s statement “makes it clear it’s a matter of moral imperative” to ease rules regarding union organization.

Honoring gays

The National Park Service wants a plan drafted by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus for a new trail system that would showcase locations significant in the struggle for racial equality and be expanded to include areas important to the gay rights movement.

The request was made during a hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss a bill sponsored by Rep. William Lacy Clay, Missouri Democrat, to create a civil rights-themed trail that, according to the legislation, would mark “historically significant events related to struggles for civil rights based on racial equality, including signage or printed materials (or both) that provide information about the people and events involved in such struggles and associated with such location.”

But the National Park Service broadened Mr. Clay’s vision to honor gays as well.

“Many civil rights-related sites have been identified and are currently recognized within the National Park System, the National Trails System and as National Historic Landmarks, such as ones associated with prominent individuals such as Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. and with well-known events such as the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March,” National Park Service acting Director Daniel N. Wenk testified Tuesday before Mr. Clay’s committee, which has jurisdiction over the National Park Service.

“However, a number of civil rights-related sites have not been recognized and some stories are underrepresented such as ones associated with the struggle for rights for American Indians, Hispanic people, and gays and lesbians,” he said.

During the hearing, Mr. Clay told the National Park Service that its expansion of the definition of “civil rights” is “unheard of” and that he opposed it.

This is not the first gesture the National Park Service has made to gays.

Stonewall Inn, in New York’s Greenwich Village, was listed by the service on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Riots broke out there in 1969 between gay patrons and the police in a rebellion that National Park Service material states “sparked the modern struggle for the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans.”

Also, a section on the National Park Service’s Web site highlighting “diversity” honors contributions made by its gay employees.

• Amanda Carpenter can be reached at [email protected]

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