Unions Press Clinton on Outsourcing Of U.S. Jobs

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh in 2005, has visited India. Indian American supporters credit her for reaching out to them.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh in 2005, has visited India. Indian American supporters credit her for reaching out to them. (By Manish Swarup -- Associated Press)
By John Solomon and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 8, 2007

When Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to New Delhi to meet with Indian business leaders in 2005, she offered a blunt assessment of the loss of American jobs across the Pacific. "There is no way to legislate against reality," she declared. "Outsourcing will continue. . . . We are not against all outsourcing; we are not in favor of putting up fences."

Two years later, as a Democratic presidential hopeful, Clinton struck a different tone when she told students in New Hampshire that she hated "seeing U.S. telemarketing jobs done in remote locations far, far from our shores."

The two speeches delivered continents apart highlight the delicate balance the senator from New York, a dedicated free-trader, is seeking to maintain as she courts two competing constituencies: wealthy Indian immigrants who have pledged to donate and raise as much as $5 million for her 2008 campaign and powerful American labor unions that are crucial to any Democratic primary victory.

Despite aggressive courtship by Democratic candidates, major unions such as the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union have withheld their endorsements as they scrutinize the candidates' records and solicit views on a variety of issues.

High on the agenda of union officials is an explanation of how each candidate will try to stem the loss of U.S. jobs, including large numbers in the service and technology sectors that are being taken over by cheap labor in India. During the vetting, some union leaders have found Clinton's record troubling.

"The India issue is still something people are concerned about. Her financial relationships, her quotes -- they have both gotten attention," said Thea M. Lee, policy director for the AFL-CIO.

Facing a cool reception, Clinton and her advisers have used closed-door meetings with labor leaders in recent months to explain her past ties to Indian companies, donors and policies. Aides have highlighted her efforts to retrain displaced workers and to end offshore tax breaks that reward companies that outsource jobs.

But the Clinton camp has been pressed by labor leaders on her support for expanding temporary U.S. work visas that often go to Indians who get jobs in the United States, and it has been queried about the help she gave a major Indian company to gain a foothold in New York state. That company now outsources most of its work to India.

"They're obviously defensive about it," observed Lee, who has taken part in such meetings.

Clinton declined repeated requests for an interview about her views on outsourcing. Her campaign advisers, however, say she believes there are no inconsistencies in the comments she has made here and in India or in her actions as a senator.

They say she opposes legislative measures -- such as trade barriers -- to slow the loss of American jobs if they would restrain free trade. And they say she has supported the expansion of the temporary-worker visas because U.S. technology companies have repeatedly told her the visas are needed to maintain a ready workforce.

At the same time, they say, she has worked hard to secure money to assist workers who have lost jobs to outsourcing and wants to retrain the American workforce to compete better in the global marketplace.

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