August 16, 2006

“CAFTA 15″ Democrats may survive labor’s wrath

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One year after labor groups vowed to
punish 15 Democrats who joined Republicans in the U.S. Congress
to approve a Central American free trade pact, most have easily
won their party's nomination to run again.

Democrats still angry about the U.S.-Central American Free
Trade Agreement now must decide whether to vote against the
"CAFTA 15" in the November general election and possibly thwart
their party's best chance in years of recapturing the House of

The AFL-CIO labor federation mounted an all-out effort last
year to stop CAFTA, which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a
California Democrat, called a job killer in an impassioned
speech shortly before the 217-215 House vote.

Many union members and other activists were incensed when
the 15 Democrats crossed party lines to vote with 202
Republicans to approve the pact.

"If we ever want to make politicians take us seriously when
it comes to important laws touching the lives of workers, we
must punish the 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the
Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) -- and punish
them hard," labor rights activist Jonathan Tasini wrote on his
Working Life blog just after the vote.


But 11 of the CAFTA 15 have already won their party's
nomination to face a Republican party candidate in the November
congressional elections. In most of those party primary races,
the CAFTA 15 candidates ran unopposed.

Two of the remaining primary races are in New York, where
Rep. Gregory Meeks is running unopposed and 24-year House
veteran Rep. Edolphus Towns faces two opponents on September

The New York AFL-CIO voted this week not to endorse Meeks
and Towns because of their CAFTA vote.

"It basically means we're sitting out the race," said Mario
Cilento, communications director for the New York AFL-CIO.
"Delegates to the convention felt strongly that a message had
to be sent and not take labor support for granted."

The Illinois AFL-CIO has voted not to endorse Rep. Melissa
Bean, a first-term congresswoman accused of betraying union
members who helped her defeat veteran Republican lawmaker Phil
Crane in 2004.

Bean has already won her party's nomination but faces a
tough general election.

Illinois AFL-CIO members struggled with whether it was
better to swallow their disappointment and endorse Bean in the
hope of helping the Democratic party recapture the House after
more than a decade of Republican control.

"That was the $100 million question, but they decided to
take a stand," said Beth Spencer, a spokeswoman for the
Illinois AFL-CIO.

Bill Morley, a lobbyist with MWW Group, said CAFTA
Democrats are being rewarded by the business community for
their vote, while labor unions risk marginalizing their
influence by taking a hard line on trade pacts.

"Melissa Bean's better off having supported CAFTA than not.
Look who is really stepping up for Melissa Bean right now in
the general election. It's the business community," he said.