Rep. Kuhl pulls support of AFL-CIO-backed bill

Just days after his narrow reelection triumph, Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) stoked the ire of organized labor by withdrawing his support of a bill that would promote more union organizing.

The congressman’s decision to formally withdraw his name as a cosponsor came after he collected more than $88,000 in campaign contributions from organized labor groups.

Kuhl, a freshman who is one of 13 Republicans to originally co-sponsor the bill, which eases the requirements for employees to organize in the workplace, removed his name from the legislation shortly after his win over Democrat Eric Massa.

Kuhl did not explain his rationale when he pulled his name off the cosponsor list last week on the House floor, and did not comment for this article. Kuhl removed his name from the bill two days before Massa officially conceded on Nov. 15.

The AFL-CIO, which had endorsed Kuhl in 2004 and throughout his 24 years in the New York State Assembly, backed Massa in the congressman’s most recent race. Kuhl attracted 51 percent of the vote.

The New York Republican’s decision to remove his name from the bill illustrates a persistent divide between labor-friendly Republicans and the unions, which targeted many of these members on trade votes during the past two years.

Labor representatives criticized Kuhl for taking their campaign cash and then rejecting priority legislation after winning reelection.

In announcing its endorsement this summer of Massa, local AFL-CIO spokeswoman Peggy Costello claimed that the switch was brought about by Kuhl becoming less friendly toward unions since he was elected to the House: “Randy Kuhl’s record in the [New York state] legislature was generally acceptable. In Congress, however, we rate his record as very weak — no more than 35 percent favorable to labor interests.”

The bill to reform the National Labor Relations Act is one of the chief issues that the AFL-CIO plans to focus on in 2006. Democrats are likely to move the legislation soon after they pass a minimum wage increase. Many industry groups in Washington strongly oppose the measure, which is sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel expressed his disappointment with Kuhl’s decision: “It’s possible that he’s changed his mind about the bill based upon the level of political support he received locally from the AFL-CIO, and I think it’s unfortunate.”

Other unions voiced displeasure with Kuhl’s reversal of position on the bill. The Laborers’ International Union of North America gave $6,000 to Kuhl in the 2006 electoral cycle. Spokesman Rich Greer said “[The reversal] is something that we’re concerned about, and we plan to talk to Representative Kuhl about it.”

Most of the House Republicans who back the union bill hail from centrist or left-leaning districts, and needed to avoid antagonizing labor to hold their seats. Three of those Republicans, Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) were defeated in the midterm election.

Other House members, including Kuhl, Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and James Walsh (R-N.Y.) retained their seats by slim margins.

Still, some unions that supported Kuhl showed less concern with his decision to remove his name from the bill. The United Transportation Union gave Kuhl a total of $4,000. The group’s national legislative director, James Brunkenhoefer, said, “Quite frankly, one game doesn’t make a season. We will examine him as the new Congress starts.”