The GOP gubernatorial candidate couldn't draw Democratic opponents into the fray over unions.
By Michael Sluss
On a day when legislation making it easier for workers to unionize was reintroduced in Congress, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell denounced the proposal and challenged his Democratic rivals to distance themselves from the measure.
McDonnell, the former state attorney general, said Monday that the federal Employee Free Choice Act would undermine the spirit of Virginia's "right to work" law that prohibits compulsory union membership. And though the issue will be decided in Congress, McDonnell said it is one that "every candidate running for governor should be concerned about and weigh in on."
"This is not good for Virginia," McDonnell said. "This will not help our free enterprise system or our ability to be competitive and to grow jobs in Virginia."
But McDonnell could not bait the three Democratic candidates for governor -- state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, former Del. Brian Moran of Alexandria and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe of McLean -- into debating the issue Tuesday.
Representatives for the three Democrats said it is a federal issue and that the candidates want to balance workers' rights with the need to preserve the state's pro-business climate.
The Employee Free Choice Act would enable workers to unionize if a majority of employees in a particular workplace sign cards agreeing to join a union. Business groups are working to defeat the bill, also known as "card check," partly because it would eliminate the requirement for secret-ballot elections by workers. The bill also would allow federal arbitrators to dictate contract terms for a two-year period if workers and management can't negotiate a labor agreement.
The bill has backing from most Democrats in Congress and President Obama. But there are doubts about whether it has enough Senate support to overcome a filibuster and get a floor vote. A similar bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, but never got a vote in the Senate.
Sen. Jim Webb would like to improve the bill to make it more "fair, equitable and effective," spokeswoman Jessica Smith said.
Sen. Mark Warner has not taken a firm position on the bill. Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said the senator considers the current system "out of balance" and in need of reform.
Representatives of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with members of the state's congressional delegation and discuss their objections to the bill, while labor groups worked to build support for the measure. Union organizations also plan to hold rallies today in Roanoke, Richmond and Norfolk to demonstrate support for the legislation.
McDonnell, who has no opposition for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, called the legislation "as much of an anti-free enterprise and job-killing bill to come down the pike in decades."
But the Democratic candidates would not take on McDonnell on Tuesday.
"We're not going to let Bob McDonnell and national Republicans dictate the way we talk about these important issues for hardworking men and women of Virginia," said Moran spokesman Jesse Ferguson.
Deeds spokeswoman Brooke Borkenhagen said the debate "is a federal issue that does not affect Virginia law, and Bob McDonnell needs to explain why he is trying to score cheap political points with a federal issue."
McAuliffe believes the issue deserves a full debate in Congress, spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith said, adding that McAuliffe "will remain committed to striking the right balance between protecting workers' rights and ensuring that Virginia remains a business-friendly state."