AFL-CIO official promoting bill to change unionization rules during Cape visit

Sunday, August 24, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Stewart Acuff, special assistant to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, discussed issues in an interview with the Southeast Missourian.

Stewart Acuff, special assistant to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, visited Cape Girardeau over the weekend to promote legislation he believes would ease requirements for union organization.

Acuff's weekend visit to Cape Girardeau included a Saturday morning presentation at the Union Members' Education Forum, hosted by the Central Trades and Labor Council of Cape Girardeau, a local affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Today he plans to speak at the SEMO Labor Picnic, which will be from 1 to 5 p.m. at Cape County Park North.

The proposed Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate employers' option of requiring a secret ballot election. A union could still decide to hold such an election, or it could try to organize workers with a card check, in which employers agree to recognize the union if a majority of workers in a bargaining unit sign authorization forms.

Supporters of the bill, such as Acuff, contend it is necessary to protect workers' rights to join unions.

Opponents, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say the legislation would leave employees' privacy rights unprotected.

The labor union leader visited Cape Girardeau at the request of Mark Baker, president of the Central Trades and Labor Council of Cape Girardeau. The two struck up a friendship in 1996, when Acuff was president of the Atlanta Labor Council.

A 1977 graduate of the University of Missouri and son of a former Caruthersville, Mo., Southern Baptist minister, Acuff vowed to return to Southeast Missouri for a future project. and Baker knew an appearance at the Labor Picnic would be "the perfect opportunity" to extend an invitation to the labor leader because of the legislation's fate in Congress.

"The picnic will focus on the Employee Free Choice Act and other political challenges our country is facing this year," Acuff said Saturday. "The local labor movement looks at issues and major ways for those friendly to the American worker to win in the fall."

Acuff believes the November presidential election could be decided in Southeast Missouri.

"I'm challenging union members to support the candidate who will do the most for the working person," Acuff said. "And that candidate is Barack Obama. This is the most important political decision in our lifetime."

He believes voters are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with President Bush and Republicans in Congress. Therefore, Acuff said, educating rural Missouri voters is vital if the Employee Free Choice Act has a chance of becoming law.

In March 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation by a 241-185 vote. Three months later a Senate motion to end debate and proceed on a vote to approve the bill fell short of the 60 votes needed. Now the bill will have to be reintroduced into Congress.

Obama has promised to approve the bill if elected while Republican presidential candidate John McCain has vowed to veto it.

"Five years ago McCain was a maverick and we would have been able to have a conversation with him," Acuff said. "Now, he has chosen to drink the Kool-Aid of the radical right wing Republicans and he likes it. ... That's why it's all the more important for workers to support Obama and the rights of employees."

However, Missouri Republican Party spokeswoman Tina Hervey said that McCain will fight for workers' rights.

"Mr. Acuff's comments are amusing," Hervey said. "I don't think anyone would question Senator McCain's maverick status.

"He is a man of principle and integrity who puts his country first," she said." He's a comfort for many in his party and will put American workers first over his own personal desires."

335-6611, extension 137

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