Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat now running for re-election, has received the endorsement of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in his primary campaign against Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak.
Specter has received plenty of labor endorsements before, even when he ran as a Republican (they backed him in 2004 over Democrat Joe Hoeffel). But considering that Specter vocally opposed the Employee Free Choice Act last year, his return to the good graces of labor is a bit surprising. Specter had to win over 2/3 of the members present at the state federation meeting.
“In our opinion Senator Arlen Specter is the strongest advocate and supporter for good jobs, fair trade policies, workers’ rights and quality affordable health care for all,” said Bill George, president of the umbrella group, which represents 900,000 workers statewide.
Arlen Specter didn’t vocally oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. He single-handedly killed the entire bill.
At the outset of 2009, the Employee Free Choice Act was cruising along quite well. With a big investment from unions and their allies, and a vocal opposition from the Chamber of Commerce and other Big Business groups, the debate on the Employee Free Choice Act was in full swing in political circles and the news media. While contentious, there was little doubt in my mind some form of significant labor law reform would pass early that year. (Disclosure: I was working for SEIU’s Employee Free Choice Act campaign at the time.)
Then Arlen Specter acted on the only thing he actually cares about: his own political survival. He could feel GOP primary opponent Pat Toomey breathing down his neck. A poll was released in March showing Specter getting crushed in the primary. So Specter made a move he thought would redeem himself with angry primary voters: without warning, Specter announced he would oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. When I say without warning, I mean no one saw it coming. The first person to hear about Specter’s newfound opposition was freaking Grover Norquist, who announced the news to a roomful of conservatives one morning. Grover knew before union leaders knew.
Later that afternoon, Specter took to the Senate floor and announced he would oppose cloture on the “Employees’ Choice Act,” one of the many iterations Specter called the Employee Free Choice Act. (See also: “Freedom of Choice Act,” “Employees’ Choice of Freedom,” “Employees’ Choice, ” etc.) In addition to his announcement of opposing cloture, Specter offered a handful of suggestions for how to “improve” the Employee Free Choice Act, some of which could have conceivably have been considered in a compromise, others that were outrageous (like banning organizers from talking with union members at their homes.). In short, Specter flipped the bird to working people in a blatant attempt to save his own electoral ask.
Unions were rightly outraged at Specter. State union leaders came to DC to meet with Specter. Local members were pissed as hell, and some organized demonstrations at his offices throughout Pennsylvania. Both SEIU and the AFL-CIO went apeshit on Specter online, each releasing videos contrasting Specter’s past support for the bill with his newest flip flop, slamming his office with phone calls from internet activists and patch-through phone banks, and flooding his offices with faxes.
What a shock when it turns out that opposing the Employee Free Choice Act didn’t save Specter in the polls, and further alienated him from both parties. So Specter made the ultimate flip flop and decided to become a member of the Democratic Party in yet another attempt to save his electoral ass. To stick it to his newfound friends, Specter announced at his party switch that he still would oppose cloture for the Employee Free Choice Act. About four months later, in August, after taking some massive heat from local union members whom Joe Sestak was courting, Specter finally said he’d support the bill.
Even if Specter came out right at his party switch in April and said he would support the Employee Free Choice Act, it was dead anyway. Just days after Specter’s March 24 announcement he would oppose the bill, other Senators saw the opportunity to announce that they, too, had concerns with the bill and would not support it without signficant changes. On March 27, California Senator Diane Feinstein announced that she wasn’t inclined to embrace the bill. On April 6, Blanche Lincoln came out strong against the Employee Free Choice Act. On April 20, Virginia Democrat Jim Webb expressed reservations about the bill. And then, on April 28, Arlen Specter switched parties, with a warning that he “would not be an automatic 60th vote … for example, my position on Employees’ Free Choice will not change.”
And so today, the unions of almost 1 million working Pennsylvanians have thrown their support to Specter’s re-election, promoting the fallacy that Specter is “the strongest advocate and supporter of…workers’ rights.”
Bullshit. Arlen Specter killed the Employee Free Choice Act.