Business Leaders Counter Union Election Drive

The telecom industry boosts its counterattacks on the AFL-CIO's plan to raise $35 million for the 1996 campaign

P> The telecom industry's numerous lobbying groups have a new competitor in Washington: the nation's labor unions.

Armed with a plan to raise $35 million of election funds and to hire numerous election workers, union leaders will try to regain Congress for the Democratic Party.

If they succeed, they likely will win many of their policy objectives during 1997 -- minimum wage laws, tighter safety regulations, curbs on free trade, an end to spectrum auctions and curbs on reforms of the Federal Communications Commission.

"Anytime one group raises $35 million to throw behind one of the two parties, it ought to be cause for concern," said Jot Carpenter of the Washington-based Telecommunications Industry Association.

For example, the National Republican Campaign Committee has raised $26 million in 1996, up from $9.1 million in 1993. However, much of the money was spent on the telemarketing campaign used to raise the funds from small businesses and other donors.

At the March 25 meeting in Washington of the Communications Workers of America, a member of the 13 million-person AFL-CIO group of trade unions, senior Democratic politicians pledged their support for many of the CWA's priorities.

The union's role in the upcoming elections "is an essential effort.... It will, in fact, make a major difference," said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.

The CWA, which in February settled a five-month labor dispute with Bell Atlantic Corp., wants to defeat S. 1423, a bill sponsored by Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., that would roll back the Occupational Safety and Health Agency. The union, which opposes Republican Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., a strong supporter of the electromagnetic spectrum auctions, will fight proposals to relax restrictions limiting foreign ownership of phone or broadcast companies.

The CWA also opposes Republican efforts to sharply cut the FCC, which is implementing the 1995 telecommunications reform act and its roughly 80 critical decisions, said John Morgan, a lobbyist for the Washington-based CWA. The union wants better trade rules, such as laws requiring equivalent wages and working conditions for laborers in various countries, to curb the transfer of manufacturing jobs to overseas production sites, he said.

Business groups gearing up to re-elect Republicans include the Washington-based National Federation of Independent Businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. "We're having a banner year," said John R. Davis, a political director for the NFIB. The group is trying to raise campaign funds from its 600,000 members and organize them for the impending election.

The labor unions also must compete against companies such as AT&T, which donate millions of dollars in campaign funds. Although issues such as minimum-wage rules are of little concern to the high-wage infotech industry, executives are concerned about the future of telecommunications and free-trade policies, said Ken Glueck, a Bethesda, Md.- based lobbyist with Oracle Corp.

Also, political surveys show that many union members do not support their unions' political policies, said Scott Rasmussen, president of Grass Roots Research, Charlotte, N.C. For example, 35 percent of government workers voted for Republicans in the 1994 election, despite their unions' pro-Democratic stance.

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