7/5/08

AFL-CIO screws up EFCA litmus test

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Rogue endorsement 'dilutes credibility' of AFL-CIO

One of the Miami trade unions that denied it was endorsing U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, after the congressman said he had the group's support, has switched tracks and now says it is backing the Republican incumbent. The president of the Transport Workers Union Local 291, who last week told The Miami Herald that the union had ''absolutely not'' endorsed Diaz-Balart, said Wednesday his union has backed Diaz-Balart all along.

''They've been instrumental on our issues,'' Wessell Clarke said, referring to the congressman and his brother, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who both face aggressive Democratic challenges.

J.W. Johnson, a past president of the local and the international vice president of the Transport Workers Union, said Clarke had erred earlier because he hadn't understood that the local could go its own way and back the Republicans even though the Florida AFL-CIO, to which the local belongs, is endorsing the brothers' Democratic challengers. Diaz-Balart had touted the union's support in a news release.

''We showed [Clarke] what it was,'' Johnson, whose international union oversees the local chapters, said on a conference call with Clarke. ''The local from the beginning, at each juncture . . . has always stated that they support the Diaz-Balart brothers.''

Diaz-Balart's campaign issued a news release from Johnson that says ''the local AFL-CIO's decision to back other candidates in these races will not dissuade us from our endorsements or our work on behalf of our chosen candidates.''

The dispute arose when Diaz-Balart's campaign laid claim to a dozen union endorsements the same day his Democratic challenger, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, picked up the backing of the Florida AFL-CIO, which brings with it campaign contributions and campaign volunteers.

One other union that Diaz-Balart claimed supported him -- the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1922 -- said Wednesday it stands by the AFL-CIO support for Martinez, despite the longshoremen's friendship with Diaz-Balart.

''If we don't respect our own organizations, it just dilutes your credibility,'' said Luis Meurice, a longshoremen district vice president with the South Florida AFL-CIO.

Diaz-Balart's campaign manager, Ana Carbonell, said the campaign has ''support'' from the longshoremen and did get the endorsement of nearly a dozen unions -- ''unusual for a Republican.

''We're very grateful for the endorsement of our teachers, our firemen, our carpenters, our police, our transport workers and for the support of our longshoremen,'' she said.

Martinez's campaign questioned the transport support, noting that several transport officials attended a news conference last week at which the AFL-CIO backed the Democratic Party candidates.

''All I know is we had a press conference and the transport workers were there, they stood next to Raul,'' said Martinez spokesman Jeff Garcia. He called on the Diaz-Balart campaign to apologize to the longshoremen.

South Florida AFL-CIO President Fred Frost said he was disappointed with several unions that dissented. He said two-thirds of the AFL-CIO delegates voted to support the Democrats who back their chief issue -- the Employee Free Choice Act, which makes it easier to form unions.

'In my opinion, once the transport voting members find out [the incumbents'] voting records, it's over,'' Frost said.

'I love the fact that a union would stand by a public servant who has done well for them. But if you take everything in its entirety, it needs to be a 'we' vote, not an 'I' vote. If labor continues to do this we're never going to get anywhere.''

The controversy over the union endorsements comes as Diaz-Balart, his brother and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen face their first significant reelection challenges.

Republicans lost two U.S. House seats in Florida in 2006 and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, recently changed its ratings on the two Diaz-Balart races, moving both seats from ''solid Republican'' to ''likely Republican.''

The Diaz-Balart brothers' Democratic challengers, Martinez and former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia were named last month to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red to Blue program, giving them headliner status as the party tries to expand its majority in the House.

The designation means technical campaign support from the national party and, according to some estimates, at least $500,000 in campaign contributions.

Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart are also getting a boost from House Republicans: they were added this week to the GOP's Regain Our Majority Program.

(miamiherald.com)

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