Labor Day 2002: Bush & McCarron
As many journalists and commentators have pointed out, during his time eight years in office president George Bush’s favorite labor leader was UBC’s Douglas McCarron. On Labor Day in Kaukauna Wisconsin, 2002, George Bush said of McCarron, “I’m honored to call him friend and I’m honored to be able to work with him on behalf of the working people of America.” “The carpenters are proud to call him boss” Bush went on. The tight relationship between Bush and McCarron was seen by many as part of a strategy to use McCarron to help entice union workers into the Republican fold. And for his part, Doug McCarron returned the favor saying, “I am completely convinced in the integrity of George Bush.” This kind of talk prompted Ted Kennedy to comment: “He [McCarron] feels he gets face time with the president, is able to talk about these issues. We’ll see whether he is about to get anything out of it.”
And, to be sure, McCarron got his face time. He twice flew on Air Force One with George Bush, welcomed him to the UBC national convention in 2002, and hosted Bush at two Labor Day picnics. McCarron also escorted the president through UBC training facilities in Las Vegas, and voted with Bush on oil drilling in an Alaskan Wild Life Preserve, a favor to both Governor Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney’s Enron. The UBC also endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidates Jeb Bush of Florida and Dick Posthumus in Michigan in 2002. In 2004, while nearly all other unions endorsed John Kerry for President, McCarron isolated the Carpenters by not publicly endorsing anyone.
But how could Doug McCarron, or anyone who claims the mantle of labor leader, have supported a president who repealed new workplace safety rules and barred federal constructions projects from giving preference to unionized workers, a president who reduced overtime pay for millions of workers, who gutted many OSHA workplace safety rules, who slashed job training funds, who denied farm workers a raise in 200, and who in 2002 invoked the Taft-Harley Act against longshoremen for the first time in a quarter century? In fact, on November 26, 2002, one day after Bush signed a homeland security bill that both men knew would decrease carpenters’ wage levels–by killing an amendment to the bill that would have guaranteed that construction workers hired with department funds get prevailing wages in their locales, as mandated for other federal construction workers by the David-Bacon Act–McCarron was back at the White House, hobnobbing with a president who appreciates the UBC president’s “leadership.” The list of Bush’s anti-labor measures goes on and on, but the point is clear: George W. Bush, whose “integrity” Doug McCarron values so completely, was one of the most anti-labor presidents in our nation’s history, challenging only Ronald Reagan for that distinction.
So then the question remains: what was Doug McCarron going to get from this lopsided relationship,where Republicans get their way with anti-labor legislation and labor gets nothing? Remember the power grab described above, and the Regional Council setup? It led to a legal challenge by New Egnland carpenters. They insisted in doucments filed with the Labor Department, that McCarron had violated laws to make union elections fair and transparent. If the New England carpenters won their case, it might have toppled the hierarchical struture McCarron had put in place. And that is why the friendship with president George Bush and his Labor Secretary Elaine Chao was so important. No surprise then that Bush and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao sided with McCarron against the reformers. As Judis summed up the relationship, “don’t look for Bush, Chao, and [Solicitor General Eugene] Scalia to rule against the UBC and for union democracy. If they did so, they would threaten McCarron’s hold over his union and quite possibly deprive the administration of its staunchest ally in the labor movement.
In October, 2002, McCarron found himself at the center of still more controversy when it was revealed that he and other directors of ULLICO, a union-owned life insurance company, had made out like bandits through insider knowledge of the company’s investment in Global Crossing. Facing a possible indictment, McCarron announced on October 29, 2002 that he would return the nearly $300,000 he had made.
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