Friday, July 29, 2005

Union Chief Rips Bean For Backing Trade Pact

Political Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times

Freshman Democrat Melissa Bean will "pay a serious price" for voting for the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the U.S. House, a top labor leader said Thursday, predicting that unions will deny her crucial support in her effort to hold on to her northwest suburban congressional seat.

"Almost all the unions in this particular area supported her both with mobilization -- knocking on doors -- and with money, and up comes what is a true test in terms of a vote, and she can't stand with us?" said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest union in the AFL-CIO.

"She'll certainly feel an effect in terms of contributions and resources," McEntee said. "She'll pay a serious price with the workers in her area."

Leaders, workers feel 'betrayed'

Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere said one local labor leader told her he was considering looking for a candidate to challenge Bean in the Democratic primary in the 8th Congressional District.

"They are angry. They feel betrayed," Blackshere said. "It will be difficult for her to get support in the future."

Bean became a top GOP target after she ousted longtime Republican incumbent Phil Crane last year. In that race, labor unions gave the Barrington Democrat $235,200 -- nearly 49 percent of the political action money she took in, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This year, labor has kicked in at least $67,500.

As the AFL-CIO's convention adjourned at Navy Pier, national President John Sweeney told the Chicago Sun-Times he is "really angry" at Bean and the other Democratic defectors. But he said local union leaders will decide whether to support Bean's re-election.

"She's probably out of touch with her district," Sweeney said. "When's the last time she talked to workers about this?"

Bean was one of 15 House Democrats -- and the only one in Illinois -- to vote Wednesday for the trade agreement, called CAFTA, which squeaked through 217-215 after earlier passing the Senate.

Bean defends her vote

CAFTA eliminates tariffs and other trade barriers between the United States and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republican, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Union officials argue it will cost U.S. jobs, allow foreign employers to exploit workers and fail to protect the environment.

Bean said she voted for CAFTA, even though it "is not perfect," because it will eliminate foreign taxes paid by Baxter Healthcare, Abbott Labs, Boeing, Motorola and other companies in or near her district, allowing them to broaden their markets and create jobs.

"My primary responsibility is to support the interests of my constituents," she said. "On balance, they will benefit from CAFTA."

Business leaders hailed her vote and said it could bring her more corporate support.

"It was a courageous vote on her part," said Douglas Whitley, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.


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