Few Clouds 41° Good Morning
Few Clouds 41° Good Morning

Labor unions threaten to work against Rice's re-election bid

Rep. Kathleen Rice speaks at the Rambam Mesivta

Rep. Kathleen Rice speaks at the Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015 Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

WASHINGTON -- Some Long Island labor unions and progressive groups are threatening to work against Rep. Kathleen Rice's re-election because of her flip-flop on her vote for fast-track trade authority in June.

Michael Gendron, executive vice president of the 900-member Local 1108 of the Communications Workers of America in Patchogue, said recently that there's an effort to find a candidate to challenge the first-term Democrat from Garden City in a party primary.

Asked if he would oppose Rice even if it meant a Republican would win, Gendron said, "Yes, yes, yes, if nothing else just to send a message that we cannot be taken for granted."

But officials of the Long Island Federation of Labor, and the New York State and national AFL-CIO, who four months ago attacked Rice for that vote, reacted more cautiously when asked if they would oppose those who crossed them on trade. Most declined to comment.

Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's government affairs director in Washington, said labor wants Democrats to win back control of the House, and suggested it could be difficult to do that if it doesn't support Democratic incumbents such as Rice.

"We would like Nancy Pelosi to be speaker," Samuel said of the House minority leader from California who would be in line to take the top post with a Democratic majority. "It's hard to translate that to a district," he said, where members feel betrayed.

Rice stunned labor backers when she announced June 7 that she would vote to give President Barack Obama authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership deal, even though last year she had signed letters opposing it and gave reassurances she would vote no. The deal would reduce tariffs and set new rules for trade among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

After the vote, local union members and activists picketed her office. The AFL-CIO, which has 11 million members nationwide, ran a TV ad showing Rice saying she opposed fast-track trade deals because they cost American jobs. It closed with: "Should we ever trust Kathleen again?"

So far, local and all but two national labor unions have withheld donations from Rice's campaign fund. In 2014, unions gave her $245,000, more than a third of the $666,000 she raised from PACs, records show.

Stepping in to make up some of those lost funds, her lawmaker colleagues in the pro-trade New Democrat Coalition donated at least $20,000 to her.

Samuel said it's too early to tell if the AFL-CIO will back or oppose Rice and others who voted "yes" on the trade pact. "It will depend on the nature of the communication that those members of Congress have with their local unions," he said.

Rice's campaign spokesman Eric Phillips, who declined to make her available for an interview, acknowledged union anger but said Rice continues to work on behalf of working families.

A few weeks after her vote, she issued a news release calling for union apprenticeships to be included in labor pacts on federal projects.

"No partnership as deep and long-term will be without occasional disagreements," Phillips said in a statement. He added, "The lines of communication have always been, continue to be, and will always be open."

The Working Families Party said in a statement, "Rice has one last chance to change course by rejecting the TPP [trade deal] when it comes up for a final vote . . . If she doesn't, Nassau County's working families will hold her accountable, and so will we."

Phillips indicated Rice is prepared to vote for that pact.

"The House hasn't been provided the full text of the legislation and she looks forward to reviewing it to ensure that it meets the goals of [trade promotion authority] and the American worker and economy," he said.

News Photos and Videos