WASHINGTON — Organized labor is a key source of campaign contributions and the apparel union UNITE is an active donor, with $1.8 million raised from members for the 2000 elections.
UNITE’s political-action committee has disbursed almost $1 million to Democratic incumbents, as well as challengers of Republicans, according to FEC records. In addition to these contributions, the union’s 250,000 members, and a large number of its 200,000 retirees, are actively campaigning for candidates.
For example, the 2,000 UNITE members who work at the Evansville, Ind., distribution center of T.J. Max’s parent, TJX, Inc., are working hard to elect Democratic congressional candidate Paul Perry. Perry, an orthopedic surgeon, hopes to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. John Hostettler, who UNITE opposes for his vote in favor of granting China permanent normal trade relations, among other positions perceived by labor as anti-worker.
“We’ve been doing voter-registration drives, cookouts, you name it,” said UNITE political director Chris Chafe.
In addition to backing candidates who oppose U.S. free-trade policies toward China, the World Trade Organization and handling of trade agreements without consideration of worker rights, UNITE’s political litmus test also includes whether candidates support legislation to make retailers financially liable for wages owed workers at U.S. garment contractors. The bill, sponsored by Rep. William Clay (D., Mo.), has been shelved during the six years Republicans have controlled Congress.
First Lady Hillary Clinton’s Democratic candidacy for the New York Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan fits UNITE’s criteria. About 800 union members this month turned out for a Clinton rally at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in an auditorium that UNITE rented. The rally was designed to highlight Clinton’s support for legislation granting amnesty to certain immigrants, a bill UNITE supports as an anti-sweatshop measure.
North Carolina Democrat Rep. Melvin Watt is an example of an incumbent whose seat is considered secure but who has received money from UNITE as a sign of continued support for the politician.
Watt stands with UNITE on several issues, including his vote this year against China PNTR and a bill dropping duties on certain apparel imports from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean Basin. His campaign against Republican challenger Chad Mitchell, a high-school teacher, has received $2,000 from UNITE.
A North Carolina race in contention that’s garnering UNITE support is the 8th District race between Republican incumbent Rep. Robin Hayes and Democrat Mike Taylor, an attorney. Hayes voted against the Africa-Caribbean Basin bill, but supported China PNTR. In 1998, Taylor lost to Hayes by 1,800 votes.
“We think our endorsement and our work will make a difference in the race,” Chafe said. “We have over 5,000 workers in the district.”

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