By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2006
RICHMOND, April 13 -- National labor union leaders are criticizing Virginia U.S. Senate candidate Harris Miller for opposing worker rights as a lobbyist for the high-tech industry.
In a letter to the Virginia AFL-CIO, the national union group representing white-collar workers called Miller "truly one of the bad guys" for his support for outsourcing jobs and importing foreign guest workers.
The letter was the latest example of Virginia's two Democratic Senate hopefuls having problems with their party's base voters. This month, several prominent black politicians criticized Miller's opponent, former Navy secretary James Webb, for statements he made about affirmative action.
"I cannot accept Jim Webb's views and statements on affirmative action," state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) said April 3. "I think his candidacy will have rough going gaining support among the rank and file."
Kristian Denny-Todd, Webb's communications director, said Marsh was mischaracterizing Webb's comments, in which he said that affirmative action should be based on class, not race.
"Jim Webb always has and always will support affirmative action for African Americans," Denny-Todd said.
The letter from the Washington-based AFL-CIO's Department for Professional Employees, which represents 4 million white-collar workers, was sent in February and first made public Thursday on the Raising Kaine Web blog, which is run by Webb supporters.
In the letter, Executive Director Michael W. Gildea writes of the candidate, a former president of the Arlington-based Information Technology Association of America: "Miller's anti-labor, anti-worker activities find him unfit for any kind of labor support."
Gildea was out of town and did not return calls. But the president of the professional employees' union, Paul Almeida, said his organization has a "long track record" with Miller that he said motivated the unusually blunt letter and an accompanying two-page fact sheet.
"When we saw his name pop up, we didn't know if people in the labor movement knew him the way we did," Almeida said. "He should be [asked] to defend why the outsourcing of jobs and the bringing in of guest workers is a good idea."
Doris Crouse-Mays, secretary-treasurer of the Virginia AFL-CIO, said her organization is not endorsing anyone in the June 13 primary. But she said the comments from the national group will be considered when determining endorsements in the general election.
"Assuming that Harris Miller was to win the nomination, it would be addressed at our executive council," she said.
Miller's communications director, Taylor West, downplayed the importance of the letter and said Miller will be courting union voters by stressing the need for better education and training so that Virginians can compete.
"Harris is not someone who wants to see jobs leaving this country," West said. "We have to acknowledge the realities of a global economy and be sure we're providing the resources and the tools for our workers."