Friday, August 05, 2005

Bean Bounced From Labor Fete

Labor irked: CAFTA vote costs her an invite

The News Sun
By Ralph Zahorik

GURNEE — An invitation by labor unions in Lake and McHenry counties to honor freshman Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean as a friend of labor next month has been withdrawn because of her vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

CAFTA, strongly opposed by organized labor, passed the U.S. House in a close 217-215 vote last week. Bean was the only Illinois Democrat voting for the trade pact.

"CAFTA is bad for American workers and we had thought Congresswoman Bean would look out for the interests of working families," said Lee Schillinger of Round Lake Beach, a school teacher and president of the Gurnee-based Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor, a central labor body with delegates from area union locals that represent about 20,000 workers.

"The entire labor movement is upset with Bean's vote on CAFTA," said Matthew LaPierre of Mundelein, a federation board member and representative of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees. "Defeat of this onerous legislation was a top priority of the labor movement ... We are deeply disappointed."

Organized labor supported Bean with manpower and $235,000 last year in her upset victory over Republican Congressman Phillip Crane in the Eighth Congressional District. Crane was viewed by organized labor as one of the labor movement's worst enemies.

Bean was to be honored as labor's "Person of the Year" at the federation's annual $100-a-plate fundraiser Sept. 25 at Midlane Resort in Waukegan. The fundraiser is still going ahead, but an alternative program is being planned, Schillinger said.

Although she won't be the guest honoree, Bean is still welcome to attend if she buys a ticket, he said.

"That's their right to do," said Bean. "It's an emotional issue with a lot of people."

"The federation has a right to present their award to whoever they choose, and they certainly feel strongly about CAFTA," said Brian Herman, a spokesman for the Barrington Democrat." The congresswoman values their perspective and carefully considered their point of view before supporting the agreement.

"She understands that some people may be disappointed, but the bottom line is that she has an obligation to vote in her constituents' best interests," Herman added. "In that regard, CAFTA is about market expansion and local job growth; and, on balance, families in her district will benefit from its passage."

"Organized labor was a key ingredient in your upset election over Phil Crane," the federation's executive board wrote Bean. "While labor never expected a 100 percent voting record after 30 years of 0 percent by Phil Crane, we did believe you shared and understood the interests of working families. Apparently you do not."

In their disinvitation, the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor, said previous Bean votes for eliminating the estate tax, extending "onerous provisions" of the Patriot Act" and for a bill "making it harder for working people to seek bankruptcy protection" also "were votes against the interests of working families."

Thea Lee, policy director at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., said organized labor hasn't decided what it would do about lawmakers who voted for CAFTA.

"Certainly, it's appropriate for a labor federation to take into account all votes," she said of the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor's action against Bean. "We support what they're doing on the local level, but we haven't made our decision."

Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, had no comment, said a spokeswoman, Beth Spencer.

Mike Stokke, deputy chief of staff to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is working to unseat Bean, had praise for the Barrington area congresswoman after her CAFTA vote.

"I think the real issue for people in Illinois is what are you doing to help the economy and bring jobs to that state, and she could certainly argue on CAFTA that she's done some things that help. I think the vote is smart vote for the district."

A top labor leader this week warned Bean will "pay a serious price" for voting for CAFTA.

"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."

Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere said last week that 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."

Two Republicans have announced they will seek the GOP nomination for Congress in Bean's district.

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

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 Laboratories, 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Post a Comment

<< Home