LEAP delegates consider presidential contenders

McCain record gets sharp scrutiny

AFTER 12 YEARS in the desert of George Bush governance, organized labor stands ready for a change of climate. The question facing delegates to the 40th LEAP conference in Washington, D.C., April 20-25 was which candidate represents labor issues and working families the best.

“When you look at who you’re voting for in the next election, understand that you’re not just going to get that candidate, you’re going to get every person that candidate appoints.”
— IP Newton B. Jones

The Government Affairs Department (GAD) presented a week-long program aimed at assessing the candidates and invigorating the delegates for the political fight yet to come. GAD brought in an array of politicians, consultants, and other speakers to address the delegates. Boilermakers heard from U.S. congressmen, Republican and Democratic lobbyists, a state governor, and Abraham Lincoln (in the form of actor and inspirational speaker Dr. Gene Griessman).

Delegates also received in-depth critiques of key Boilermaker legislative issues, advice on lobbying their senators and representatives, and recognition for supporting the Legislative Education Fund and the Campaign Assistance Fund.

Congressmen see labor as key (again) in 2008 elections

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA 4th).
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA 4th).

LABOR’S PIVOTAL ROLE in unseating Republicans as the majority party in Congress in the 2006 elections was certainly understood by the congressmen who addressed LEAP April 23.

“I would not have won without the support of organized labor,” Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA 4th) told the conference. The first-term Democrat praised western Pennsylvania Boilermakers who, he said, “believed in me long before anybody else did.” Altmire said he came from behind in 2006 to beat a Republican incumbent with “one of the worst labor records in Congress.” He credited organized labor’s intense get-out-the-vote effort for his long-shot victory.

“All I heard [when considering whether to run for office] was, ‘You know, organized labor is dead. Unions don’t matter anymore. They can’t influence the outcome of elections.’ But you really did change Congress by the work you did in 2006.”

Altmire cautioned Boilermakers and all of organized labor not to rest on those achievements. “We have to put a Democrat in the White House. We in Congress can talk all we want about labor issues, but in order to get them signed into law, we have to have someone who’s friendly towards organized labor.”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI 2nd).
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI 2nd).

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI 2nd) urged LEAP delegates to consider Republicans who support labor issues. “Don’t write us off [just because] we have an ‘R’ behind our name. You may be surprised at how often you can find common ground with Republicans.”

Indeed, GAD Dir. Bridget Martin called Hoekstra “a key Republican ally for organized labor on trade and keeping jobs in the U.S.”

Hoekstra said Pres. George W. Bush missed an opportunity after 9-11 when he advised the American public to return to work and to go shopping. Hoekstra said Bush should have told Americans: “We are going to start on a massive project to become energy independent.” Such a project, said Hoekstra, would include nuclear power, coal-fired power plants, clean coal technology, and expanded drilling for oil.

“Obviously, if we were moving towards energy independence, we would need people and skills and capabilities to build that infrastructure in the United States. And that work is done by people like you. Just think how powerful it would be if organized labor and Republicans and Democrats could move forward and come together on an agenda.”

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI 1st).
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI 1st).

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI 1st), a congressman known for his fiery speeches, said the stakes have never been higher for the next election. “We’ve got to get a president in there that’s going to be pro-worker; and let me tell you something, it’s not John McCain. How … can there even be a question about voting for John McCain, when you’re paying $4 a gallon for gasoline?” he asked.

Abercrombie argued that McCain’s chief supporters are wealthy international capitalists. “The people we are up against, the people backing McCain, they have no loyalty. You don’t exist for them as a human being. You don’t count except how you can serve them in making more money.”

The Hawaiian congressman attacked free traders that push deals with countries like Colombia, which has one of the worst records of violence against unions. “There isn’t a man or woman sitting in this audience who isn’t eligible for a bullet in the back of the head [in countries like Colombia],” he said.

“Don’t write us off [just because] we have an ‘R’ behind our name.”
— Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI 2nd)

Abercrombie said McCain has stood against the Jones Act, which protects American shipbuilding interests. “He fought us every step of the way when we’ve tried to get an American cruise ship industry going. And the antiunion, foreign flagships that don’t pay taxes and don’t obey the laws are coming at us hammer and tong trying to destroy our capacity to build and sail American flagships.

“These are the kinds of people who want to destroy everything that you’ve tried to build up,” he said. “You’ve got to put people in office who are going to be with you and be with the people you love and care for ... and who are going to invest in this country.”

Cook predicts: “Election will be awfully close”

WHEN IT COMES to reading political tealeaves and predicting outcomes, Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report, is considered one of Washington’s best. Cook informed and entertained LEAP delegates with statistics, anecdotes, and predictions of the current election cycle.

Charlie Cook, political analyst“I haven’t seen Republicans this demoralized since the mid-70s during the Watergate scandal.”

— Charlie Cook, political analyst

Predicting election results, like forecasting the weather, is an inexact science, Cook admitted. “For about 50 out of 52 weeks last year, I was predicting Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. I take no pleasure in saying … I was wrong.” Cook said that barring a miracle, the Democratic race for president is finished, and Sen. Barack Obama will prevail.

“I think this general election [between Obama and McCain] is going to be awfully close,” he said. “I think it’s going to turn on events that have not yet happened.”

Cook predicted the Democrats will pick up three to six seats in the Senate and five to 15 in the House.

“I haven’t seen Republicans this demoralized since the mid-70s during the Watergate scandal,” he said.

Manchin says take care of this country first

WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR Joe Manchin addressed the LEAP conference about challenges he and other state leaders face — and the frustrations they encounter with misguided federal priorities.

Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.“I’ve got 300,000 people in my little state of less than two million that can’t drink the water that comes out of the spigot.”

— West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin

He faulted the Bush administration for spending “trillions of dollars” in nation-building overseas when so much needs to be done in the United States. “My grandfather, ‘Papa,’ liked to say, ‘If you can’t keep yourself strong, you can’t help anybody else.’ I wish this country would get back to rebuilding this nation first. I’ve got 300,000 people in my little state of less than two million that can’t drink the water that comes out of the spigot. I’ve got 400,000 people that can’t flush the commode and know it’s going to be taken care of in a sanitary manner. I’ve got roads that are crumbling; I’ve got bridges that are falling, like everyplace in America.”

The Democratic governor also discussed the Sago and Aracoma mine disasters that occurred in West Virginia in 2006. Twelve miners died at Sago, two at Aracoma. He recalled standing with the families of the trapped Sago miners for 50 hours, praying for a miracle. Manchin said, “Rapid response wasn’t there. We did not have communication or tracking. And we did not have life-saving oxygen.”

In the absence of strict federal mining laws, Manchin said he pushed through state legislation to provide comprehensive safety measures for miners.

Climate change tops LEAP issues

Abe Breehey, Assistant Director of Government Affairs.
Abe Breehey, Assistant Director of Government Affairs.

SHIPBUILDING, IMMIGRATION reform and fair trade remain critical topics to the Boilermakers union, and all three were included in the list of issues delegates took to Capitol Hill to discuss with Congress. But it was clear that climate change has moved to the forefront of vital Boilermakers issues — with Congress considering legislation that may alter how the United States deals with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Abe Breehey, Assistant Director for Government Affairs, briefed delegates on the issues and explained related legislation.

Breehey said that as Congress enacts new laws to address climate change, there is the potential for “more work than our union could ever handle at our current manpower levels.” That work might involve new technologies that are currently being tested such as carbon capture and sequestration.

He said Congress has introduced two bills that call for a “cap and trade” energy policy. The policy would set benchmarks for CO2 emissions and charge industries for each metric ton emitted above established levels.

Breehey said the Boilermakers and most other labor unions support the Bingaman-Specter bill (Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA), because the cap levels and implementation goals are more attainable and economically feasible.

Breehey added that the Boilermakers union has been at the forefront of the climate discussion in Washington, D.C. Breehey has testified before Congress about labor’s concerns. Among these are the economic impact of climate control policy on industries that employ our members; how the government will spend money from carbon allowance auctions (to what degree that money will be invested in worker training, for example); and whether carbon limits will apply to countries like China and India so they do not gain an unfair advantage over U.S. companies — and cost U.S. workers even more jobs.

“Workers’ voices need to be part of this debate,” said Breehey. “This isn’t just about big business and environmentalists banging their heads against each other. It’s about people and what happens in our communities.”

IP Jones offers insights into Obama endorsement

Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones.
Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones.

ENDORSING BARACK OBAMA was a decision the International Executive Council (IEC) did not take lightly, Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones told LEAP delegates. Jones acknowledged that many people would vote for Sen. John McCain “because he is a white male, and that’s what we’ve always done; for Sen. Hillary Clinton, because she’s a woman, and her campaign has historic significance; or for Sen. Barack Obama, because he’s a black male, and that has historic significance as well.

“Those are choices people have to make within themselves,” Jones said. “But the International Executive Council cannot make decisions based on those criteria. We have to make decisions that are truly in the best interests of the union, of our members, and this country. Our decision is based on the candidates’ policies as stated in their campaigns, their past practices and histories, and their viability.”

Jones went on to critique each candidate. He said John McCain, while having an honorable military record, “is a free trader who has voted with Pres. Bush nearly 90 percent of the time. The IEC looks at the free-trade issue and how it has harmed our members with so many jobs lost in so many sectors. We have to weigh that very heavily.

“When you look at who you’re voting for in the next election, understand that you’re not just going to get that candidate, you’re going to get every person that candidate appoints to the cabinet, to the Supreme Court, and to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board — institutions that affect us directly.”

Jones praised Clinton as a dynamic politician and excellent senator. But he expressed concern that she had supported free trade as First Lady and initially supported the Iraq War, which has diverted billions of dollars that could have been used for infrastructure improvements and other projects that are desperately needed in the United States.

While Clinton and Obama are close on many policy issues, Jones said Obama more closely matches up with the needs of Boilermakers and working people in general. “He supports fair trade — not free trade — just as we do, with fair labor standards and environmental standards. That’s what we want, that’s what the AFL-CIO wants, and that’s what most of Congress wants.” Jones said it is also relevant that Obama comes from a coal state. “A policy to invest in clean coal technologies is very important to our organization and to our future position to be energy independent as a nation. Barrack Obama is closer to our positions on fair trade and clean coal technology than Sen. Clinton is.

“Let’s be clear on one thing,” Jones continued. “This union is not telling anybody who to vote for. We encourage our locals and our members to give deep thought to who you’re going to support and why. Make your choice and be happy in your heart that you made the right choice for you.

“Whatever you do, be involved, make a difference, and support your union brothers and sisters.”

Conroy says defining McCain is key to victory

THE MOST RECENT polls at the time of the LEAP conference showed both Obama and Clinton with narrow leads in a head-to-head match-up with McCain, Cecile Conroy, Research and Legislative Assistant to the D-GA, told Boilermaker delegates.

She said McCain’s campaign would try to “mischaracterize him” to persuade the American public to support him. “McCain’s record is not good for working families,” she stated. “He does not believe in unions, he is not labor’s friend, and he won’t fight for us.”

Conroy said McCain won’t be easy to defeat, because many Americans appreciate his service to our country, and rightly so. But many perceive, incorrectly, that he is an independent thinker, a moderate and that he is close to holding Democratic values. “We need to de-mystify him, to define him for what he is,” she said. “Working families need to know that he voted with George Bush 95% of the time last year and 89% of the time in previous years.”

Conroy said the strategy of the Boilermakers and the AFL-CIO will be to use factual, documented information showing his anti-worker record. She urged Boilermakers to visit a special section of the AFL-CIO Web site called “McCain Revealed” at www.aflcio.org/issues/politics/mccain.cfm.

Martin details Obama positions, strengths

Dir. of Government Affairs Bridget Martin.
Dir. of Government Affairs Bridget Martin.

ON TRADE, CLIMATE change, national defense, and many other issues, Sen. Barack Obama will take America in the right direction, Government Affairs Director Bridget Martin told the LEAP conference.

Martin highlighted the senator’s positions, especially those that are vital to the future of Boilermakers. She said Obama believes in rewarding companies that keep good jobs in America. He opposes incentives for firms that take jobs overseas. This is promising news for Boilermakers employed in manufacturing, many of whom have lost their jobs to off-shoring.

She said Obama also has the right approach to climate change. He wants to protect our climate, but in a way that does not damage American industries and jobs. He believes in investing heavily in new technologies for clean coal and using a cap-and-trade approach to reducing CO2 emissions. This sensible approach should help protect and promote jobs in heavy industries like power generation, cement manufacturing, and petroleum refining.

Obama also supports a strong national defense, with military ships, planes, equipment and systems produced in this country, Martin said. This is certainly important to our shipbuilding members and Boilermakers involved in the manufacturing and maintenance of military hardware, she noted.

Martin stressed that Obama has raised his money from regular people, with most of his contributions averaging $91. He refuses to take money from lobbyists and PACs (including union PACs). Money that Boilermakers contribute to the Campaign Assistance Fund cannot go to Obama’s campaign. “I couldn’t even buy a $3 bumper sticker from his Web site,” said Martin, a registered lobbyist for the Boilermakers.

As to Obama’s support for labor, he has a 96 percent AFL-CIO lifetime voting record, she reported.

She also dispelled the many myths that have been circulating about Obama. “For example, he is not a Muslim, and never has been one,” she said. “He is a committed Christian who was sworn into office as a U.S. senator on his personal bible.” She said members can easily find the truth about any myths or rumors involving candidates by visiting www.snopes.com or www.factcheck.barackobama.com.

Panel says, “Talk to Republicans, scare Democrats”

HOW DO YOU cut through the gridlock in Washington and get something done? To address that question, LEAP organizers brought in four lobbyists — two with Republican credentials and two with Democratic backgrounds.

Chuck Harple, lobbyist with the Mathis Group.
Chuck Harple, lobbyist with the Mathis Group.

Matt Keelen and Eric Dell of the Keelen Group, offered perspectives from the right; Mike Mathis and Chuck Harple of the Mathis Group did the same from the left. Interestingly, the four agreed on most issues.

Keelen and Dell said unions might find common ground with even the most far-right Republicans on some issues. They cited Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC 2nd) as one example. Wilson is a staunch right-to-work supporter, seemingly the worst type of politician in labor’s view. But the Keelen Group brought the Boilermakers and Wilson together in one area that is vital to both parties — shipbuilding. Since both sides have an interest in supporting the Jones Act and American shipbuilding jobs, they have been able to work together, at least on that issue. Rep. Wilson has even attended the last two LEAP conferences as a guest of the South Carolina Boilermaker delegation.

Mathis and Harple, both former Teamsters, said Democrats have often disappointed labor on key issues, frequently taking labor for granted and making deals with business interests in opposition to unions. The panel concurred that for labor to get real respect, it needs to “scare” those Democrats by withholding financial and voter support.

The lobbyists also stressed the importance of getting involved in politics at the state level and building relationships with politicians who may later become governors or members of the U.S. Congress. They said that 2010 will be of particular importance, because that is when the next national census will occur. The political party in power in each state will control how redistricting will be done — and that process can help ensure a party’s dominance for years to come.

Union Tank Car, National Gypsum close plants

AMIDST THE DISCUSSION of politics and legislation, Boilermakers heard the tragic stories of two recent manufacturing plant closures. The Union Tank Car plant in East Chicago, Ind., is shutting down, at a cost of about 600 Boilermaker jobs. President Kelly Hounsell, president of Local 524, which represents the workers, handed over his lodge’s final CAF and LEF checks to GAD Dir. Martin.

Martin announced that National Gypsum will close one of its plants, in Lorain, Ohio. Local D416 represents 70 workers there. Ironically, Sen. Barack Obama had conducted a town hall style meeting and tour of the plant February 24, less than a month before the plant closing was announced. GAD had assisted with the event. At the time, there was no hint that the plant might close.

“The continued loss of good U.S. manufacturing jobs is one of the main reasons why this election is so critical,” Martin said.

Upon learning of the National Gypsum plant closing, Sen. Obama reached out to the Boilermaker members affected and also made statements to the press about the devastating news for workers and their families.

Lincoln speaks at 40th LEAP celebration

Dr. Gene Griessman.
Dr. Gene Griessman.

THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS Department commemorated the 40th anniversary of the LEAP conference with something special — an evening reception at Union Station, with a special appearance by Abraham Lincoln (a.k.a. Dr. Gene Griessman).

Dressed in Lincoln-like attire, including a black top hat, Griessman put on a one-man play that captured the persona of the 16th president — his folksy charm, his country wisdom, and his simple but eloquent humor. Delegates and guests enjoyed the dignified and inspirational performance, which offered many anecdotal stories and a reading of the Gettysburg Address.

Griessman has performed several times at Ford Theater, the site of Lincoln’s assassination in Washington, D.C.

In addition to performing as Lincoln, Griessman spoke at the LEAP conference about communication techniques used by leaders.

Paid for by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Campaign Assistance Fund, [phone: (703) 560-1493] and is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.