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Jewish World Review August 28, 2000 /27 Menachem-Av, 5760

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Consumer Reports

Making labor's day

Gore won't cut his ties to the union movement's dark side --
WHEN YOU LOG ON to the Gore campaign's Web site and look up the groups listed as "Voter Outreach," you will find "Educators," "Environmental Voters," "Ethnic Amer.," and "Faith Community," but you will search in vain for "Unions." Yet unions are arguably the most powerful constituency group in Al Gore's Democratic Party. When Democrats gathered in Los Angeles 40 years ago, Theodore H. White identified the party's three major constituencies as big city machines, Southern governors, and labor unions. Today the machines are gone and the Southern governors are mostly Republican, but the unions, after a long decline, are picking up strength. Some 31 percent of Democratic delegates were union members, compared with 17 percent of Democratic voters. Unions had far more delegates than blacks and Hispanics did, and far more élan–with membership numbers suddenly on the uptick–than did feminists, who compromised their principles to defend Bill Clinton.

Gore campaigns as a champion of "the people against the powerful," but of course unions are powerful institutions, and it's a fair question what their leaders expect to get from him. Some answers are obvious. Teachers unions were the most heavily represented at the convention, and from Gore they get rock-solid opposition to vouchers, even for kids in failing schools–and a silencing of Joseph Lieberman's contrary view. Nearly half of union members are public employees, and Gore's initiatives have always taken care to protect public employees' jobs. The old industrial unions are strongly opposed to Gore's support of free-trade agreements. For them, Gore had words in his convention speech: "We must welcome and promote truly free trade. But I say to you: It must be fair trade. We must set standards to end child labor, to prevent the exploitation of workers and the poisoning of the environment." This is code, echoing language he used in the primary season, understood by labor leaders to mean that Gore will break with 55-year tradition and not support trade-widening agreements that foreign countries will agree to.

Power struggle. So, for all of Gore's inveighing against "the powerful," he supports the programs of one powerful interest, organized labor. But, as in the case of stands favored by other interest groups, these are policies also backed by many reasonable and disinterested voters. More disturbing are the questions about Gore's attitude toward union corruption raised by his campaign's closeness to figures convicted or implicated in violations of law revolving around the hotly contested election for Teamsters union president in 1996.

That election ultimately resulted in the ouster of incumbent Ron Carey, a strong supporter of AFL-CIO head John Sweeney, and the election of James P. Hoffa. But not before pro-Carey union officials and consultants Martin Davis, Jere Nash, and Michael Ansara siphoned $885,000 out of the union treasury in a scheme to reimburse others for contributions to the Carey campaign. All three pleaded guilty in 1997; unusually, none has yet been sentenced. In November 1997, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer investigators' questions whether he had procured $150,000 from the Teamsters treasury which, three days later, resulted in $100,000 to Carey campaign consultants. Under a rule dating to the Teamster scandals of the 1950s, AFL-CIO officials were removed from office after taking the Fifth; Sweeney said the rule didn't apply to Trumka, who remains secretary-treasurer–and a prominent supporter of Gore. Trumka flew to Iowa to campaign for Gore in the January caucuses, and he got a featured speaking spot at the Los Angeles convention.

In November 1999, former Teamsters official William Hamilton was convicted for his part in a money-diversion scheme; in the trial there was testimony that lead Clinton fundraiser Terry McAuliffe had worked to advance a diversion scheme. McAuliffe says he did nothing wrong; neither he nor Trumka has been prosecuted by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who is handling the case. Since then, Trumka was one of the leading backers of the AFL-CIO endorsement of Gore in October 1999, and McAuliffe ran the record $26 million fundraiser for the Democratic Party in May 2000–as well as the Democratic convention. Meanwhile, Hoffa's Teamsters brought a lawsuit seeking restitution of the $885,000 but have not been able to get testimony from the unsentenced Davis, Nash, and Ansara. And, the Associated Press and Knight-Ridder recently reported, the Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee have been paying "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to the consulting firm employing convicted felon Ansara and still owned by his wife.

No one can say the government is purposely blowing potential cases against Trumka or McAuliffe, and White has earned a reputation for nonpolitical decision making. But the Gore campaign's actions suggest a coziness with allies convicted of or implicated in illegally manipulating a union election. In 1960, John Kennedy campaigned as a backer of union positions but an opponent of union corruption. Gore takes the first stance but not, it seems, the second.

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of the biennialAlmanac of American Politics. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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07/06/00: A textbook campaign: Bush makes hay before the convention lights shine
06/23/00: Beat the press
06/06/00: Reining in regulators: Will the Supreme Court clip Washington's wings?
05/25/00: In plain English: Bilingual education flunks out of schools in California
04/28/00: Gore in the balance: His book reveals a fanatical approach to the environment
04/04/00: President-elect Putin offers a basis for hopes–and for fears
03/14/00: Over the long, long haul, the issues may yet favor the Republicans
03/02/00: Will unions rule? Indispensable to Gore, labor may be the campaign's secret winner
02/15/00: A reformers' party
01/03/00: The voters rule: In Manchester, Mexico, and Moscow, an imperfect system works
01/19/00: The era of Big Promises
12/08/99: Welcome to the world of 'good enough'
11/2/99: Just saying no
11/12/99: Money talks, as it should
10/28/99: Mexico votes – for real
10/03/99: Going against type
09/28/99: The unions go public
08/31/99: China's strait flush
08/25/99: The first two contests
08/03/99: Paddling upstream
07/08/99: Taking Hillary seriously
06/22/99: Trying the lawyers
06/07/99: Facts on the ground

©2000, Michael Barone