Va. Candidate Deeds Scrambles Over Conflicting Collective Bargaining Answers

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds found himself in hot water with two organizations representing state public safety employees Tuesday after he gave the groups differing answers about whether he supports collective bargaining for law enforcement personnel.

Deeds told the Fraternal Order of Police of Virginia in writing that he supports a bill pending before Congress that includes a so-called "meet and confer" provision that would allow public safety employees to send a representative to negotiate wages with local police and sheriff's departments.

"I am a strong supporter of collective bargaining rights for public safety employees," he wrote in a questionnaire he returned to the group at the beginning of August.

But the Deeds campaign now says the questionnaire was filled out incorrectly by a staff member. The senator told members of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association Monday that he does not support collective bargaining, association executive director John Jones said.

The association members "didn't know what to think, to tell you the truth," Jones said.

A spokesman said Deeds supports "meet and confer" laws that give public safety workers the right to negotiate job security, wages and workplace safety but not collective bargaining because it would carry with it the right to strike.

"Public safety is too important a responsibility to allow for a potential disruption in service," Leopold said. "He doesn't support collective bargaining that infers the right to strike."

Leopold said the campaign was reaching out to the FOP and other groups to explain Deeds's position. He said that the incident was an honest mistake and that Deeds did not shift positions on the issue.

The bobble came as local FOP lodges meet this week to vote on endorsements for governor. The FOP, which has endorsed Republicans for governor in the last two elections, favors collective bargaining. The Virginia Sheriff's Association, which does not endorse candidates, opposes it.

The misfire could prove damaging to Deeds by giving Republicans an opening to call into question his often-stated support for Virginia's right-to-work law, which makes it one of only a handful of states where public safety employees aren't allowed to bargain collectively for wages and benefits. Deeds's Republican opponent Robert F. McDonnell has repeatedly charged that the Democrat's commitment to the statute is weak and blasted him for accepting large donations from national labor groups.

The incident also opened Deeds to the charge that he massaged his message in an attempt to tell members of both groups what they wanted to hear. An e-mail from the FOP on the issue was distributed by the Republican Party of Virginia under the subject line "Two Groups, Two Positions."

FOP legislative chairman Kevin Carroll said Deeds had made no attempt to amend his answers to the questionnaire in the weeks since he submitted it to the organization. The FOP, which represents 8,200 police officers, sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement members in Virginia, supports both "meet and confer" and collective bargaining.

McDonnell told both organizations that he opposes collective bargaining for public safety workers.

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