Union, CBC Meet to Defuse Tension

Posted March 11, 2008 at 6:36pm

Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern came to Capitol Hill last week to address the weekly meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus to defuse hard feelings stemming from the union’s help in defeating a CBC member.

The union targeted Rep. Albert Wynn (D) in last month’s Maryland primary. Wynn lost by a wide margin to attorney and Democratic Party activist Donna Edwards, who was buoyed by the more than $1 million the SEIU spent to assist her campaign.

Under questioning, Stern said the union was not targeting any other CBC members this cycle. CBC members also have grumbled that they are less likely to receive the maximum contribution from SEIU’s political action committee because most of them hold politically safe seats. Meanwhile, SEIU maxes out to more vulnerable Members, even some who have voting records that are not as strong as CBC members on labor issues.

According to one attendee at the meeting, Stern told the group that the union had changed its policy and that from now on they planned to give the full contribution to CBC members.

“It was pretty lively,” the Member said of the dialogue between Stern and CBC members.

“I thought it was a good discussion,” said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who praised CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) for bringing the two groups together.

“We have so much in common,” Towns said.

Kilpatrick declined to comment on the meeting for this article. Other CBC members were reluctant to talk about the gathering on the record but agreed that the discussion was positive.

“The meeting was a good opportunity to discuss issues so we can move forward with our common agenda,” SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said through a spokeswoman. Burger was among the union officials at the meeting.

Wynn was not present for the SEIU meeting. In the wake of his loss in the Feb. 5 primary, many CBC members expressed anger about the union’s willingness to go after Wynn despite his strong labor record. He had a 100 percent on the union’s voting scorecard in 2007, yet he alienated some progressive groups with votes unrelated to labor issues.

After the primary, a SEIU spokeswoman said the union’s decision was based on a combination of factors, including the incumbent’s overall voting record, not solely his votes on labor issues. She also said that at the end of day, the union’s feeling was that Wynn wasn’t representing his constituents’ best interests.

Labor support was split between Edwards and Wynn in the primary.

The national SEIU, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 and national UNITE HERE supported Edwards. The state teachers union, the Washington Metro AFL-CIO, the Maryland-Washington, D.C. AFL-CIO, AFSCME Local 2250 and SEIU Local 400 were behind Wynn.