7/1/08

Republican is proud of union endorsements

Disorganized Florida AFL-CIO is furious

Locked in a competitive reelection battle, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart last week touted endorsements from several local unions. ''I am deeply honored by the broad support my campaign for reelection is receiving from the working men and women of our community,'' he said in a press release, citing backing from unions such as the Fraternal Order of Police and United Teachers of Dade.

But two of the 12 unions on the list -- the Transport Workers Union Local 291 and International Longshoremen's Association Local 1922, both AFL-CIO affiliates -- say they didn't endorse the Republican incumbent.

''Absolutely not,'' transport workers local union president Wessell Clarke said.

Though the transport workers have considered Diaz-Balart ''our friend in Congress for the past 15 years,'' Clarke said, they and the longshoremen's local went along with the Florida AFL-CIO, which voted last week to endorse Diaz-Balart's Democratic rival, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. The union is also backing two other congressional challengers -- Joe Garcia, who is running against Diaz-Balart's brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and Annette Taddeo, who is trying to oust Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

''Even though we do have a good relationship and we do support [the Republican incumbents] we can't endorse them,'' Luis Meurice, a longshoremen district vice president with the South Florida AFL-CIO, said Monday.

Meurice said his union had wanted to ''co-endorse'' the three incumbents and their challengers, since they have a good relationship with the Republicans.

But more than two-thirds of the state AFL-CIO voted to endorse the three Democrats at a recent convention. Individual unions are not barred from splitting from the umbrella group -- though such practices are generally frowned upon -- and the locals went along.

Diaz-Balart's campaign manager, Ana Carbonell, said that she talked with representatives of both unions and that they had told her they'd be siding with the incumbent. She said Clarke approved a quote for a press release that says the union appreciates ''Lincoln's longstanding and steadfast support for South Florida's workers.'' But Clarke said Monday that he had given the campaign the quote before the full AFL-CIO vote, which went for the Democrats.

''We were led to believe they were backing us and we haven't heard otherwise,'' Carbonell said.

But a spokesman for Martinez said Diaz-Balart owes the two unions an apology.

''You do not say you have an endorsement unless you have an endorsement,'' said Jeff Garcia. ``We got the endorsements, we worked our tails off. He's wrong, he lied, he needs to apologize.''

Clarke said Diaz-Balart has broken party ranks to protect the transit industry.

''As late as two weeks ago, he and his brother helped us tremendously when they created temporary funding for the FIU Center for Labor Studies,'' Clarke said. ''Without their help and input that would have been gone.''

Nevertheless, he added, though the transport workers ''look out for our friends.. we're governed by a larger body. We stand by that.''

Meurice said the other AFL-CIO affiliated unions were opposed to endorsing the incumbents, citing their opposition to bills to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, and votes against the union's chief issue: the Employee Free Choice Act, which makes it easier to form unions.

The three Republicans ''had basically made a commitment with us in the prior election to support that legislation,'' Meurice said of the free-choice measure.

When Lincoln Diaz-Balart's campaign listed the longshoremen as an endorser, the union said it called his campaign to clarify its status.

While the AFL-CIO's endorsement means the longshoremen's resources will go to the challengers, it is unclear how involved its members will get in their campaigns.

''Not necessarily because they're endorsed candidates we'll go out on a limb for them,'' Meurice said.

(miamiherald.com)

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