WASHINGTON – The voting records on labor-selected issues in the second session of the 112th Congress reflect, as might be expected, the sharp partisan split between the two major political parties.

With tea party-controlled Republicans running the House and the GOP Senate minority large enough to successfully filibuster virtually anything that came down the pike, Democrats were reduced in most cases to “show votes” on issues that Democratic President Barack Obama pushed and labor backed – knowing full well they would lose.

The middle ground in Congress virtually disappeared. For example, in the nine key Senate votes before lawmakers broke for their August recess – scores since then haven’t been compiled – the best GOPer was Maine Sen. Susan Collins (4-5). Scott Brown of Massachusetts, holder of Ted Kennedy’s old seat, was second at 3-6.

Senate Democrats voted in agreement with labor an overwhelming majority of the time. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., had the worst record among them, 6-3. Retiring Connecticut independent Joseph Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, was 6-2 with one absence. Of the others, 23 and independent Bernie Sanders were 9-0. Two were 8-0 with one absence. The rest, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., were 8-1.

The voting scores are not the be-all and end-all of evaluating a lawmaker’s positions on worker issues, but they are a key component. Some unions, notably in the Pacific Northwest, have developed more-comprehensive ways of rating lawmakers.

Their evaluations include committee votes, whether a lawmaker takes an out-front position – for or against – an issue labor is interested in, and how effective that legislator is in swaying his or her colleagues. But many other unions rely on the voting tables. Bearing that in mind, here are some findings from the AFL-CIO’s charts for lawmakers for the first months of 2012:

Twelve House Democrats, including Chicago’s Jan Schakowsky, two of Maryland’s six, and three each from California and Michigan, voted in agreement with the AFL-CIO’s stand on all 20 votes it selected. Five more were 19-0 with one absence. Chicago’s Danny Davis and New York’s Maurice Hinchey were 18-0-2 and New York City’s Charles Rangel was 16-0-4.

Another 62 House Democrats each were 19-1. The one “wrong” vote was when the House approved a GOP “jobs” bill early in the year, 386-23. The fed called it a giveaway to business lobbies. That was the sole “wrong” vote by Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights icon. Lewis and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. – the Atlanta delegation – were a combined 39-1.

Retiring Rep. David Boren, D-Okla., was the sole Democrat below .500 (8-11-1). But he was more pro-worker than the rest of the Oklahoma delegation, all Republicans (9-71 combined). Another retiring “Blue Dog,” Mike Ross of Arkansas, was 13-7. Both their seats are expected to go Republican this fall.

GOP Labor Caucus co-chairs Steve LaTourette of Ohio and Rep. Chris Gibson of the Saratoga Springs-Kinderhook district in New York were above .500, at 11-9 each. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, LaTourette’s co-chair, was 10-10. LaTourette, frustrated at Congress’ inability to compromise, has quit his seat. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., who got her state AFL-CIO’s endorsement, was one of five GOPers at 9-11. Just ahead of her was Tim Johnson of Illinois (9-10-1). Just behind was former pilot Chip Cravaack, R-Minn. (8-12).

Reps. Anne Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y. and Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., the former vice president’s son, tied for last, at 0-20. Many others, such as Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin (1-14-5), voted with labor once, against an alternative bud-get resolution that would have deeply cut Social Security and Medicare. It lost 38-378. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, whose budget labor opposed in a key vote and who is Mitt Romney’s running mate, was 4-16 on key votes.

Right-Wing House Republicans kept inserting anti-construction worker provisions into money bills, but lobbying by building trades unions knocked them out. Two tries to kill Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections lost 178-235 and 184-235 when 52 Republicans defected each time, after the Davis-Bacon ban won an initial roll call. All three votes are among the key votes in the AFL-CIO scorecard.

The House GOP also wanted to ban project labor agreements in federally funded construction, but Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., moved to dump the ban and keep PLAs. He won 218-198, as 34 Republicans defected from the party line. Grimm, in a tough race in his Staten Island-based district, had a 9-11 AFL-CIO mark.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the Senate Labor Committee’s top Republican, tried to overturn the National Labor Relations Board’s proposed rules to remove some of the roadblocks businesses use to delay or deny union recognition elections. Enzi lost 45-54, with all 51 Democrats, both independents and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski opposing him. Alaska is the most unionized “Red state.” Murkowski won re-election there in 2010 as a write-in, overcoming a tea bagger who beat her in the Republican primary.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.