Labor Withdrawing Support For Some Pro-PNTR Democrats

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Portions of the labor movement are upping the ante in their battle to defeat permanent normal trade relations status for China by withdrawing support for some Democrats who plan to vote for the bill.

According to writer Charlie Mitchell of the National Journal's Congress Daily, some labor movement officials say that perhaps they will actively campaign against pro-PNTR politicians in the fall.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters officials from the West Coast and Washington, DC held what one source described as an "intense" conference call on Friday in which they discussed "taking active measures" against at least three California Democrats. They are Representative Lois Capps, who recently announced her support for PNTR, Representative Mike Thompson, a freshman who remains undecided on the vote, and Michael Case, the Democratic nominee against GOP Representative Elton Gallegly.

The source said Teamsters' support for Capps "has been withdrawn" by the district's two locals.

"Capps was the big disappointment [last week] because she's so clearly here because of labor's efforts," said Ann Hoffman, legislative director of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.

But a source close to Capps said the incumbent "has a good record on labor, which I would hope they wouldn't ignore," adding that other unions in the district had not taken such a hard line on PNTR.

"Capps is a 99 percent pro-labor vote," said another source familiar with the record of the second-term member. The Teamsters endorsed Case during his campaign for the Democratic nomination but have since soured on him over the PNTR issue.

In addition, Representative Ellen Tauscher's backing of PNTR "nullifies our support" for that second-term California Democrat, said the Teamsters source.

The Teamsters probably will not "go after" another pro-trade Democrat, former Representative Jane Harman, who is seeking to regain her old seat against California freshman GOP Representative Steve Kuykendall, the official said.

"It's up to the locals to decide, but we are now considering taking active measures against pro-PNTR Democrats," the Teamster official said, adding, "This is now on the table to be discussed." The source said: "It's not just this one vote - it's every time we have a trade vote. We're talking about taking a longer view than just next year's elections. We did a poll a few months ago and our members support us taking a hardline stand with (Democratic) incumbents."

Officials with other unions suggested the backlash against pro-PNTR Democrats will probably manifest itself in low turnout and reduced campaign activism by union members rather than active opposition to the candidates.

Hoffman said: "Every union does its own thing politically ... We think (a pro-PNTR vote) will dampen turnout and have an impact in marginal districts. But if we defeat PNTR, the members who voted against us will probably have less trouble."

Added United Auto Workers legislative director Alan Reuther: "Our endorsements are done by the locals, but I can't see supporting folks who aren't with us on this. It's a question of the strength of feeling of UAW members across the country. My fear is a repeat of 1994 (when Republicans regained control of the House following the North American Free Trade Agreement vote) because there's going to be a bad reaction if this passes."

Both Reuther and Hoffman claimed the momentum favors anti-PNTR forces and said more members would come out against PNTR this week.