Union threatens retribution for House Dems opposing Keystone

Greg Nash

A top building trades union is launching a midterm-election assault on House Democrats who oppose construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

A letter distributed Friday by the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the districts of 27 House Democrats calls for union members to make sure their representative "feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November."

Their crime: signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month urging him to reject Keystone, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

"Your member of Congress is trying to destroy job opportunities for our LIUNA brothers and sisters," said the letter signed by Terry O'Sullivan, the general president of LIUNA.

"For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you," O'Sullivan wrote, noting the jobs Keystone would create for union members.

A copy of the LIUNA letter was obtained by The Hill. [READ THE LETTER HERE.]

LIUNA also sent letters to the House Democrats directly, dangling the 2014 election threat in front of each member.

The Democrats on LIUNA’s hit list include Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio).

The Keystone pipeline has long been a source of friction between Democrats and labor unions. While green groups are fighting aggressively to stop the project, many unions support it on the grounds that it would provide a surge of jobs into the construction industry.

The letter to LIUNA members asks them to keep in mind that "unemployed construction workers desperately need the work" generated by the $5.4 billion project, calling it a "lifeline" for thousands of members.

The building trade union said it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but not at the cost of jobs.

"The livelihoods of LIUNA members are too important for our union to continue ignoring the actions of supposed ‘friends’ who stand in the way of jobs that enable our proud members to provide for themselves and their families," states a letter to Rep. Jan Schakowksy (D-Ill.), one of the 27 Democrats targeted.

The push by LIUNA underscores the backlash President Obama might face in November if he punts a decision on the oil-sands pipeline past the election.

The decision pins Obama between different factions in the Democratic base.

While a number of unions are supportive, environmental groups are on the warpath against the pipeline, arguing approval of the project would be a stain on his climate change legacy. Other labor unions, including the nurses union and a major transit union, are also against it.

The State Department is wrapping up its national interest determination of the project. That is expected to end by early May, allowing Kerry to send his recommendation over to the White House.

Obama told governors visiting the White House in February that a decision would be made "in a couple of months." A timeline for the final decision, however, has not been set.

LIUNA isn't the only building trade union upset with the administration and Democrats over Keystone XL.

Last month, the North America's Building Trades Union and LIUNA met with the American Petroleum Institute to press Obama on approval of the pipeline, linking the delay to broader anger at the administration within the labor movement.

"Our anger doesn't just stop with Keystone XL," O'Sullivan told The Hill in March. "We are extremely angry about the Affordable Care Act and the fact that there is 12.8 percent unemployment in construction."

LIUNA stresses it wants Democrats to retain control of the Senate, but says that goal won’t prevent its members from speaking out on Keystone.

“Given the Republican leadership and where they stand, we do want to keep a Senate Democratic majority. Are we happy with what has come out of Congress on both sides? No. No, we’re not, nor should we be,” O’Sullivan told The Hill in March.

The House Democrats that LIUNA is asking its members to punish include Reps. Rush Holt (N.J.), Mike Quigley (Ill.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), John Delaney (Md.), Jim Moran (Va.), James McGovern (Mass.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Paul Tonko (N.Y.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), Kathy Castor (Fla.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Sam Farr (Calif.), Judy Chu (Calif.) and Adam Schiff (Calif.), and Del. Donna Christensen (Virgin Islands).