To defend himself against accusations that he’s in cahoots with “union bosses,” Democratic Rep. William L. Owens is reaching across the aisle — and back in time — to his predecessor, Rep. John M. McHugh of Pierrepont Manor.
“I believe that John McHugh was a moderate, as I am,” Mr. Owens said.
Matthew A. Doheny doesn’t care.
“I haven’t studied prior officeholders or other officeholders’ records,” said Mr. Doheny, a Republican is challenging Mr. Owens in the Nov. 6 election. “I’m just focusing on one guy, our sitting congressman.”
Mr. Doheny has launched several union-related broadsides in the past week against Mr. Owens’s voting record and his campaign finance reports. Mr. Owens supports three “anti-growth” measures, Mr. Doheny said, and he drew a link between that support and the money Mr. Owens has received from unions.
The measures were: requirements that federal contracts be carried out by union firms or under union conditions; card-check, a bill that would make it easier for labor unions to organize; and a bill that would reverse a National Labor Relations Board decision on an airplane manufacturer. Mr. Owens has received $192,700 from political action committees affiliated with unions in the current election cycle, which started at the beginning of 2011.
Mr. McHugh, who retired and became secretary of the Army, shared Mr. Owens’s views on project labor agreements and card check. He also took plenty of money from unions — 34 percent of the money he raised during one time period when he was in office came from union PACs, a higher rate than Mr. Owens’s.
“The last two congressmen were both friendly toward organized labor,” said Cary R. Brick, referring to Mr. McHugh and former Rep. David O’B. Martin, R-Canton. Mr. Brick, of Clayton, served as chief of staff for both officials.
Mr. Doheny, who hasn’t received any donations from labor groups this election cycle, said he does not take issue with rank-and-file union members; he’s instead criticizing the “labor leaders.”
“We’re not talking about people who go to work, working hard and are proud to do so. I think we’ll get plenty of support from those folks,” Mr. Doheny said, adding later: “Certainly, in a perfect world, we’ll have plenty of companies, plenty of union jobs that are going around.”
On the contract requirements, federal guidelines now recommend that government contracts use project labor agreements. The agreements, Republicans say, essentially freeze out any non-union contractor from bidding on the job.
That’s anti-competitive, Mr. Doheny said.
“I am pro-free market,” Mr. Doheny said. “I want to make sure people have the opportunity to compete.”
But Mr. Owens said it’s not always the case that the project labor agreements require unionized work.
“There may be terms that may be unappealing, but (non-union contractors) may, in fact, participate,” he said.
And he said that project labor agreements can lead to an “on-time, cheaper project.”
On card-check, Mr. Doheny said he doesn’t oppose it because it would make unionizing easier; instead, he said, he opposes it because it would take away an employee’s right to hold a vote in private over whether to unionize. He elaborated in a statement from his campaign that public votes on unionization could lead to coercion.
“He’s trying to help bosses swell their ranks – even if it means denying people their right to a secret ballot and subjecting them to threats, intimidation and coercion,” Mr. Doheny said.
Under the Employer Free Choice Act — which Mr. Owens, like Mr. McHugh before him, supports — employees could form a union by collecting more than 50 percent of employees’ signatures on a public petition. The National Labor Relations Board wouldn’t have to call for a secret-ballot election. The bill did not become law even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency.
“Since more than 50 percent would have signed on, I’m not sure what the loss is there, I guess,” Mr. Owens said. “There are significant benefits that can be achieved through the unions. I’m not suggesting it’s for everybody. But we want to put everyone in the position that they have the choice.”
Finally, Mr. Doheny criticized Mr. Owens for not acting to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from suing Boeing over moving a plant from Washington state to South Carolina. According to the New York Times, President Obama’s appointees on the board sued Boeing because it moved the aircraft plant owing to a dispute with unions. The two sides eventually settled.
“I am concerned that this clear overreach by the Obama administration will convince businesses to move jobs where the NLRB has no jurisdiction: overseas,” Mr. Doheny said in his statement.
Mr. Owens voted against a bill that came up in Congress that would have prevented the NLRB from preventing the move to South Carolina, saying he objected to attempting to “legislate the administrative process.”
“If we began to do that every time someone didn’t like a particular action by an agency, you would have much more legislation than we need,” Mr. Owens said.
He has supported previous legislation that would reverse other actions by agencies, such as treating milk spills as oil spills and child-labor regulations at farms.
“I don’t think anybody has me in their pocket,” Mr. Owens said. “My voting record demonstrates that.”