AFL-CIO Fights Proposed Spending Curbs
By Frank Swoboda
The one-time assessment of $1 for each of the federation's 13 million members initially would be targeted for a June 2 ballot initiative in California.
The referendum Proposition 226 would require unions to get annual approval of individual members before they could use any of dues money for political purposes. If approved, the California proposal would become law in July and would greatly limit labor's role in November's pivotal gubernatorial election. Democrats have high hopes of retaking the governorship of the nation's largest state.
Labor's importance to the political fortunes of the Democratic Party was underscored today as the two leading contenders for the party's presidential nomination Vice President Gore and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri mingled with union leaders.
Backers of the California initiative have said they plan to spend at least $10 million. Polls show that 70 percent of voters support the proposal, and Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, today predicted in an interview with Reuters that it would pass easily.
But labor officials here today would only cautiously predict they could win the California vote.
Similar proposals have been introduced in 30 other states and are actively being pushed by conservatives and business groups. Supporters said they hope to spend an additional $20 million outside of California this year.
The special dues assessment passed but the federation's executive council asked the member unions to "voluntarily" raise the $13 million, which it said could be used in addition to the initiative fights for other political purposes if needed, for such things as educational issue ads and membership mobilization for the campaign.
Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California AFL-CIO, said the extra money was needed to help the unions pay for television ads in the state. "The challenge for us for [producing] TV ads puts you in the millions of dollars," Pulaski said. "We will not be able to keep up with the other side. They're going to outspend us two to one."
AFL-CIO attorney Lawrence Gold, who is tracking the initiatives for the federation, has called the effort "the most direct and concerted legal attack against labor as an institution that has ever happened."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, which had been neutral in the debate, today also decided to endorse and actively push for passage of Proposition 226.
Though labor this year is trying to keep a low profile on its spending plans in the political arena, the executive council has already approved a $15 million budget for politics and legislation and another $20 million a year for the next two years as part of a media education campaign in areas where unions are trying to organize new members. AFL-CIO officials said they will not be able to spend the entire $20 million this year.
Individual unions will be asked to make pledges toward the $13 million, even though they might have to wait for their next convention to pass the increased dues payment to the federation.
Meanwhile, just 24 hours after President Clinton paid a similar visit, Gore arrived for a day of meetings and receptions with the nation's top union leaders who will play a major role in both the upcoming congressional elections and the Democratic race for the White House in 2000.
Gephardt, as usual, was here for most of the week meeting and greeting with the union hierarchy, leaving briefly to attend to business in Washington and returning today. He is considered an old friend by many union leaders here and a perfect foil for keeping the pressure on Gore for future political support. "We use them to keep the pressure on each other," one union official said.
Gore, who stopped here on his way to meet with California Democrats, did not come bearing legislative or regulatory gifts for the labor movement, but he did spend his time talking in praise of union membership. Gore called the current Republican-controlled Congress "the most anti-worker Congress in the history of this country."
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