Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president Bill George said yesterday that he and other labor leaders have told Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) that they would help him survive a primary challenge next year if he supports legislation that makes it easier to unionize workers.
"If he's there for us, we'll be there for him," George said in an interview. "We would do everything we can to make sure he wins," he said, including efforts to persuade union members to register as Republicans so they could back Specter at the polls.
Labor's top legislative priority is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give unions the right to organize a shop if a majority of workers signed pro-union petitions. Employers would not be able to force a secret-ballot election as they can under current law, though supporters say workers still could choose that option.
But EFCA is anathema to business groups and conservative Republicans, the latter already angry at Specter for his crucial vote in support of President Obama's $787 billion economic-stimulus plan. Specter is likely to face a challenge from conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey, who almost beat him in the GOP primary in 2004.
Specter, who is undecided, is subject to intense lobbying on the controversial bill. The pledge to sign up Republicans is one sign of that.
"It's a very heavily lobbied item and I'm hearing from all sides, and I'm going to listen to what people have to say," Specter said on the Fred Honsberger show on Pittsburgh's KDKA radio. "But I've made no deals, Fred, and I do not make deals like that."
George said that some members of organized labor, particularly in Southeastern Pennsylvania, registered Republican to support Specter in his fight against Toomey. It might be harder to get people to do that this time, he said, because "people want to play" in the competitive Democratic primary for governor.