All Aboard

Posted February 9, 2007 at 6:08pm

The United Transportation Union has hitched its wagon to a coalition that includes the Mayo Clinic, Midwestern cities and a group of ranchers. All are fighting a proposed expansion project for the Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, whose workers the UTU represents. [IMGCAP(1)]

The effort has dragged in several Members, including Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who counted the railroad as a client during his stint as a lobbyist.

But the coalition, which now claims workers’ livelihoods will be negatively impacted by expansion, said that having the union on its side will help to stop DM&E from getting government approval for a $2.3 billion federal loan application.

Richard Streeter, who represents the ranchers’ Mid-States Coalition for Progress and the city of Dubuque, Iowa, on the matter, said the union has helped give his side more credibility.

“They have focused on a whole new line of attack,” said Streeter, managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg’s Washington, D.C., office. “Their arguments are very, very strong. They don’t talk about the environment, they talk about the financial risk to the taxpayers.”

UTU’s Frank Wilner said the DM&E employees his union represents will end up with lower wages and worse benefits if the railroad gets its government loan and moves forward with the expansion.

UTU’s opposition, Wilner said, is simple: “DM&E wants a taxpayer subsidy so it can compete with” Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad. “At the same time, they’re saying to UTU that they want to pay their employees less than the scale of those major railroads and they want to provide for a reduced health care plan to save money.”

DM&E President and CEO Kevin Schieffer blasted the union, saying its position “doesn’t make any sense,” especially since the rail project has been under consideration for several years and the union only now has raised an objection.

“This is one of those ‘cut your nose to spite your face’ [instances]. They’re hurting the people they claim to be representing,” he said.

Mayo has argued that the new rail project would increase traffic and safety concerns near its Rochester, Minn., campus.

Stephen Ryan, a lobbyist with McDermott Will & Emery who represents the Mayo Clinic, said the union’s addition to the rail project opposition shows that his side is “snowballing.”

“The organizations opposed now demonstrate an ideological range — from a key AFL-CIO railroad union whose workers’ safety is at stake to groups like Citizens Against Government Waste and the Frontiers of Freedom Foundation,” he said. “Stay tuned for a very large uptick in Members from every area of the country who will be joining this coalition.”

Promoting Trade. Several big-business groups today are rolling out a new coalition to push for renewal of the president’s fast-track trade negotiating authority.

The coalition, dubbed Trade for America, is an effort of the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and other lobbying organizations that want Congress to renew President Bush’s administration’s authority to negotiate trade agreements and send them to Congress for only up-or-down votes. Under fast track, which is also called trade promotion authority, Congress could not amend the agreements.

Trade for America representatives plan to reveal the effort at an event today with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

K Street Moves. The once all-GOP Federalist Group, which hired its first Democrat one year ago, has added yet another member of the new majority party to its shop, which last year hired, among other Democrats, former Rep. Chris John (La.). Thomas Hebert, who was most recently with the lobbying firm C&M Capitolink, has joined the Federalist Group as a senior vice president. Hebert, who focuses on agriculture and environmental lobbying, served as deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the the Agriculture Department from 1993 to 1998, during then-President Bill Clinton’s administration. Firm founder Stewart Hall said Hebert will provide “further reach for our clients on the Democratic side of the aisle,” especially on agriculture and environmental issues.

• The American Forest & Paper Association has added David Tenny as its new vice president of forestry and wood products and Bill Imbergamo as a policy director dealing with forestry issues. Tenny joins from the Agriculture Department, while Imbergamo left the House Agriculture Committee.