WASHINGTON -- One year ago, organized labor vowed that anyone who voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement would not win labor's backing in elections this fall.
But legislative priorities change, and four months before voters make their choices for all 435 House seats and 34 Senate seats, labor has backed away from its threat. While anti-NAFTA lawmakers are being well supported by the unions, not all of those who voted for the treaty are being excluded.
In this election cycle through the end of May, the ILGWU has given campaign contributions to 187 candidates, including 24 incumbents who voted for NAFTA, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission.
Those contributions include $1,500 to Rep. Sam Farr (D., Calif.), $1,000 to Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), $1,000 to Sen. Charles Robb (D., Va.) $1,000 to Rep. Vic Fazio (D., Calif.), $500 to Rep. Bill Hefner (D., N.C.) and $500 to Rep. Marilyn Lloyd (D., Tenn.), former chairman of the House Textile Caucus. However, the ILGWU was more generous to those who voted against NAFTA, such as Rep. Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.), who got $6,500, the largest of the ILGWU's contributions so far. Evelyn Dubrow, vice president and legislative director of the ILGWU, said the union continues to contribute to campaigns of NAFTA backers because it needs them on other issues. "If they have a good record on other things, we won't try to defeat them," she said.
The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, according to FEC reports, has made $500 contributions to six pro-NAFTA incumbents. In all, it has given contributions to 68 candidates.
In Illinois, three incumbent House Democrats who backed NAFTA -- Richard Durbin, Dan Rostenkowski and Mel Reynolds -- are expected to win the endorsement of the AFL-CIO this month, because the three have favorable voting records on labor issues despite their free-trade positions, said Mike Klein, political director for the AFL-CIO in Illinois and Wisconsin.
"NAFTA was a sore spot," Klein said, "but with time it's healed a bit....As angry as we get about an issue, the nature of politics is that we go from issue to issue."
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