House GOP strategists take aim at Dem freshmen on union organizing measure

As House Democrats and Republicans prepare to face off on a bill touted as the first clash between business and labor in the 110th Congress, GOP strategists are eyeing vulnerable freshman Democrats who have put their name on the legislation.

Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said that several freshmen are taking a political risk by support the legislation, which has produced sharp partisan divisions. One of its most contentious provisions would eliminate the requirement of a secret ballot for workers attempting to unionize.

“In return for half a billion dollars in contributions to Democrat candidates in 2006, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is delivering the lock-step support of members like Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) in an effort to destroy a worker’s right to privacy in an election,” said Spain. “Their support for such anti-worker, small-business-stifling legislation is completely out of step with their districts. This will certainly not go unnoticed for them back home.”

Helping lead the GOP effort is the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a group of workers, employers, associations and organizations opposing the bill. It will launch radio ads in the districts of freshman Democrats in an attempt to pressure them from the ground level.

“Our short-term goal is to make sure that members of Congress understand that voting for H.R. 800 is going to have fairly significant consequences,” said Todd Harris, who is a principal at the lobbying group Navigators and an informal spokesman for the coalition. He declined to say specifically where the ads would run.

Harris said his group does not expect the bill will become law, since it is ultimately expected to fail in the Senate. Rather, his group’s long-term goal is to “make the issue so politically radioactive that no one will touch it” in subsequent Congresses.

But freshman targets defended their sponsorship, stressing the bill’s protection of worker rights.

Shuler spokesman Andy Whalen said that the congressman’s sponsorship of the bill is consistent with his campaign promises and with his background. It also stems from his opposition to the Central American Fair Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Whalen added.

“CAFTA and NAFTA are sending our jobs overseas and leaving workers behind. The Employee Free Choice Act is designed to help workers,” he said.

Whalen added that both Shuler and his father have belonged to unions at some time.

On her part, Boyda rejected the implication that her vote was out of step with her district.

“I have never met an American that doesn’t believe in the right to organize,” she said. “We are a working-family district. I strongly believe that people have a fundamental right to organize and that right has been severely diminished.

“I think Kansans will stand behind me,” she added.

Boyda added that before her, the district was held by several Democrats until her predecessor Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) was elected.

“The reason I’m in office has nothing to do with labels,” she said. 

Another co-sponsor and frequent Republican target, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), defended his stance by citing his background.

My No. 1 concern is ensuring Hoosiers have a voice in Congress,” Ellsworth said. “As the sheriff of Vanderburgh County, I backed my deputies when they sought representation because I believed they, and all American workers, should have the opportunity to work together to better their lives.”