Senator Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party was supposed to ease his path towards reelection in 2010. But in a memo to Pennsylvania members, SEIU chief Andy Stern let it be known, rather clearly, that the newly-minted Democrat shouldn't expect labor's support without substantive changes in his approach to their issues.
"We applaud the Senator on showing the political courage we know it took to change parties--and to move to a place we believe is more closely aligned with his personal convictions. But SEIU has always been an organization that supports candidates and elected officials based on their commitment to working families, not their party labels.
The issues that face working people in Pennsylvania have not changed, and the support we need from our representatives in Congress hasn't changed, either.
We know there have been contradictory and confusing reports about what Senator Specter's decision means for the priorities of working families in our state. In a word: our fight for Employee Free Choice and quality, affordable healthcare continues, as strong as ever."
Stern's letter follows the line of thinking I've been hearing from labor sources since Specter defected. While hopeful that a change in political party scenery will -- as Obama put it Wednesday night -- "liberate" the Pennsylvania Democrat to vote his conscience, there is still skepticism that Specter will switch his vote on, among other items, the Employee Free Choice Act. Indeed, the most optimistic scenario seems to be that a compromise bill will be produced that Specter -- and some of the recalcitrant Democrats -- will support, giving the caucus the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster.
In becoming a Democrat, however, Specter also changed the type of pressure points that could be used to influence his vote. In the memo, Stern notes that the SEIU and the two labor federations (AFL-CIO and Change to Win) have "generated over 50,000 calls to Specter's offices," "produced over 50,000 total handwritten letters to Specter's offices," and "held hundreds of protests, rallies and house meetings across the state" since the Senator announced he would not support EFCA.
"And we will continue to do so," reads the memo, "until Sen. Specter supports the principles of the Employee Free Choice Act."
Along these lines, on Thursday morning, Pennsylvania members of the SEIU were blasted with an email from the national affiliate declaring that "Arlen Specter needs to hear from you now."
"Pennsylvania's working families need his support on the Employee Free Choice Act and Health Care Reform," read the email. "I'm going to one of his offices tomorrow with some of our SEIU members and we'll make sure he hears from you."