Union leaders often have a blind eye when it comes to corruption in their own ranks, but they are quick to punish the smallest faux pas, spoken or written, when it comes to perceived acts of disloyalty from political allies. Just ask Washington, D.C. Council Member Vincent C. Gray. Gray, a Democrat, a first-term representative of the city’s Ward 7, is running for council chairman. Not long ago he had begun passing out 15,000 campaign leaflets at Metrorail stops and meet-and-greet encounters. The leaflets, which carried a page of endorsements from ward Democrats, business organizations and unions, seemed innocuous enough. The problem was what they didn’t contain: a union logo. That’s because the leaflets weren’t union-printed. That, in the world of organized labor, is a political no-no.
Union spokesmen were quick to demand an apology from Gray. Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, which represents some 150,000 workers, called Gray on August 23 to complain, noted Rick Powell, the union’s political coordinator. “It’s frowned on for politicians asking for union support not to have union labor associated with their campaign literature,” Powell said. “We take him at his word that it was a mistake.” Gray’s opponent, Council Member Kathy Patterson, who represents Ward 3, wasn’t one to let pass a political opportunity either. Patterson quickly issued a statement hammering Gray for his oversight. “Asking for labor’s support [and] then walking away from labor is just one more inconsistency for Mr. Gray,” she said. Patterson, a third-term council member, is locked with Gray in a tight race for the Democratic primary to be held on September 12.
Gray already has shown union leaders a remarkable capacity to “grow.” In August, he held a news conference to display his range of supporters, unions included. An hour before the event, Michael Smiley, treasurer of Service Employees International Union Local 722, requested that the event be moved from the National Press Club Building to the nearby Hotel Washington in honor of a picket set up at the club by the regional affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Gray obliged him, no questions asked. Smiley expressed his appreciation for the quick response, but warned that he expected similar cooperation with respect to leafleting. “I will impress upon his campaign how important it is,” Smiley said. One wonders why unions aren’t this vigilant about policing their own members when it comes to outright illegal acts. (Washington Post, 8/25/06).