Labor is keeping a close eye on Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) to see whether he disavows his pro-union record as he campaigns for the White House.
McCotter is among a small group of Republicans on Capitol Hill who have a history of supporting the labor movement.
“For a Republican, he’s pretty good on labor,” said Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, when asked about McCotter.
His voting record on labor bills could be an albatross in the GOP primary, given the party’s opposition to unions. Brett McMahon of the Associated Builders and Contractors said McCotter’s friendly relations with unions should disqualify him from winning the GOP presidential primary.
“My first thought when I heard that he’s running for president — ‘He must be running for president for the International Brotherhood of Carpenters.’ There is not a bigger union stooge out there,” McMahon said. “For the life of me, I cannot understand where he thinks there is a Republican-loving union constituency out there.”
McMahon said McCotter can’t claim to be a free-market supporter while also backing unions.
“You cannot share both spaces. It’s impossible,” McMahon said.
The political pressure of a presidential bid could force McCotter to prove his conservative bona fides. Labor officials say they will be monitoring the lawmaker — who represents a Detroit suburb filled with union members — to see whether he shifts on their issues.
Gaffney said he plans to brief his members on where the Republican candidates stand before the Michigan primary, which will be vital in this year’s White House race. He will also discuss the presidential hopefuls with other labor leaders in key primary states.
“We’re going to remind folks where his past positions were, if need be,” Gaffney said about McCotter. “We will be monitoring him and we will try to hold him accountable.”
McCotter was one of only 13 House Republicans in 2007 to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), legislation that would have eased union organizing. Labor has campaigned for the bill for years but has been beaten back by opposition from business groups and most Republicans.
McCotter rescinded his support for EFCA earlier this year, however, saying the standoff over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin had changed his thinking about it, according to an interview he gave to Manny Lopez of TheMichiganView.com.
“I’m very comfortable with him now. I certainly would love to entertain him on why he made that statement,” said Pat Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, of McCotter’s reversal on EFCA.
Despite the switch in position, the Michigan lawmaker has voted with labor on several different issues this year.
McCotter voted against an amendment that would have defunded the National Labor Relations Board. He also voted against a measure that would have banned requiring federal government construction projects to pay prevailing wages, which is required under the Davis-Bacon Act.
McCotter also voted against provisions offered on the House floor that would forbid government funds for project labor agreements, which encourage contractors to hire union workers.
In addition, he has been a vocal supporter of the federal bailout for the auto companies and gave a floor speech last year honoring Ron Gettelfinger, the former president of the United Auto Workers.
“I have a good relationship with Thaddeus McCotter. I wish more Republicans thought like him,” Devlin said. “He is sensitive to the needs of working men and women in Michigan, but he has not been with us on every issue.”
Though Republican presidential candidates have already begun to criticize unions this year, Devlin said he was not fearful that McCotter would join them as the primary season progresses.
“He’s different. He is a guy that has always had an open-door policy,” Devlin said. “He’s an honest guy, which you cannot say for many politicians.”
McCotter has earned a lifetime score of 36 percent from the AFL-CIO, according to its 2010 legislative scorecard. That record, though not perfect from labor’s perspective, places him among the most union-friendly Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Shifting his stance on unions to win GOP presidential primary votes could endanger support back home for McCotter.
“It would probably change if he went that way. But if he stays on the course he’s on, he will be fine,” Devlin said. “We are certainly going to stay in front of him. … We hopefully will keep him centered.”
Gaffney said his state labor federation would have to see its choices before deciding whom it will endorse in that race, though it’s likely the labor group will go for a Democrat. That said, if McCotter were running in a strong GOP district, he could win labor support.
“If it’s a district that’s likely to go Republican, he would be a pretty good choice among Republicans,” Gaffney said.