- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Union leaders will unleash a concerted attack against Republican candidates and their “right-wing agenda” beginning this Labor Day weekend as they rally to stem expected Democratic losses in November’s midterm elections.

The head of the nation’s largest organized labor federation on Wednesday vowed a two-month media and grass-roots campaign to define the election as a fight between Democrats’ efforts for the nation’s workers versus Republicans’ efforts to regain control of Congress for corporate America.

“We either rebuild a fundamentally different economy that values hard work and a strong middle class, or we’ll turn back toward one that puts corporate interests before people,” AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka said.

Mr. Trumka said the federation will play roles in more than 400 races nationwide, promoting its election agenda with a “massive mobilization” in 26 states. It will focus on 70 House races as well as Senate, gubernatorial and state legislative contests.

Republicans dismissed labor’s characterization that they are anti-worker, and knocked labor for supporting Democrats “job-killing agenda.”

“It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the same worn-out message big labor bosses are spinning today is the same message they tried to sell in Virginia, New Jersey and most recently in Massachusetts, but their problem is that voters just aren’t buying it,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm of Senate Republicans.

Mr. Trumka acknowledged that organized labor was caught flat-footed in elections this year, particularly Republican Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat.

While the AFL-CIO routinely spends millions of dollars on get-out-the-vote campaigns aimed at helping Democrats during midterm and presidential election seasons, this year’s campaign has added significance. Well-funded conservatives groups such as the Tea Party Express, which has spent more than $2 million supporting Republican candidates in the past year, are adding pressure to unions and other groups sympathetic to Democrats to amp up their own election efforts.

Adding to organized labor’s sense of urgency is a Supreme Court decision in January that relaxed rules concerning corporate donations in elections, which Democrats fear will give an edge to Republicans.

Mr. Trumka, who for the most part refrained from mentioning candidates by name during his Washington news conference, called out House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, for overseeing a legislative agenda that “would move us right back to the Bush era of corporate agenda.”

“We absolutely believe that when workers get the votes there will be no ‘Speaker Boehner,’ ” said Mr. Trumka, implying that House Republicans will remain in the minority after the November elections.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel shot back, saying that “rather than spending their members’ hard-earned money to push Washington Democrats’ job-killing agenda - which their members oppose - labor leaders should help the American people, who want to end the spending spree, stop the tax hikes and create jobs.”

The AFL-CIO will begin running television and radio advertisements this weekend in key markets around Major League Baseball games, NASCAR races and college football games, and sponsor more than 200 community events nationwide. The initial ad is not overtly political and doesn’t mention the upcoming elections or either political party.

As a part of its overall election campaign, Mr. Trumka said union volunteers have distributed almost 2 million fliers in a summer mobilization effort at more than 300 work sites - a prelude to a fall push that he promises will be many times bigger.

The labor federation also said it will be a major partner in a scheduled Oct. 2 rally on the Mall in Washington with “One Nation Working Together,” a loose collective that includes unions and trade associations, human and civil rights organizations, nonprofit groups and religious organizations.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker took a shot at the growing conservative “tea party” movement, accusing its leaders of being more beholden to big business than to workers.

“We’re fighting for working families - and the tea party and its corporate backers are not going to get the final word,” she said.

Mr. Trumka said he doesn’t perceive the tea party as a threat to workers and will gladly work with its followers to support workers’ rights. But he added that the movement at times has included hateful rhetoric that poses a “threat to America and democracy.”

“If the tea party people want to constructively try to create jobs with us, we’d welcome that. It wouldn’t be something we’d turn against,” he said. “However, if they want to use harsh language and try to create a polarization, we think that’s the wrong way to go.”

Mr. Trumka declined to say how much the group will spend on its midterm election campaign, though he added, “We’ll have plenty of resources to energize, to mobilize and to activate our members.”

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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