Labor maintaining its hard line against White House
Organized labor continues to show no signs of relaxing its strong opposition toward President Reagan in his second administration. Talk of a truce appears to have been abandoned. Labor leaders are now sounding off more and more frequently on President Reagan's ``hard-line conservative philosophy,'' the administration's ``anti-union sentiments,'' and bleaker times for American workers as unemployment again turns upward.
This week as the AFL-CIO prepared for a sharp attack on the President's budget proposals and economic forecasts, the unions reacted strongly on a new issue -- government charges that the presidents of three federal employee unions illegaly engaged in partisan politics in 1983 and '84 by supporting Walter Mondale.
The charges came from a civil service monitor, the Office of the Special Council (OSC), the enforcement branch of the federal Merit Systems Protection Board. The office warned that the union officials face serious administrative action unless they resign or retire from federal jobs by Feb. 26. Such voluntary moves would ``avoid prosecution'' and save ``the time and expense of litigation,'' according to official notices.
The charges were leveled against Moe Biller, president of the American Postal Workers Union; Kenneth Blaylock, head of the American Federation of Government Employees; and Vincent Sombrotto, head of the National Association of Letter Carriers. Mr. Blaylock and Mr. Sombrotto are AFL-CIO vice-presidents and are on the executive council opening meetings in Florida next week.
As heads of major postal unions, Mr. Biller and Mr. Sombrotto also were embroiled with the federal government in the confrontations over a new labor contract with the US Postal Service in 1984. The unions represent nearly 1 million workers.
Several of the labor chiefs declared the OCS charges to be ``politically motivated.''
Some members of Congress, notably Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado, head of the House Civil Service subcommittee, said the charge of illegal political activities was ``a punishment tactic.''
All three men denied that their support of Mr. Mondale violated the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (the Hatch Act) because each is on unpaid leave from his government job while serving as a union official. Each of the three said that restrictions barring partisan politics by government employees do not apply to anyone not actually working on a government job. Mr. Biller has been on leave since 1959, Mr. Blaylock for 17 years, and Mr. Sombrotto for 14 years.
Except for those representing federal employees, unions are free to endorse and work for candidates.
Federal employee unions were made subject to government scrutiny through the Hatch Act of 1939. The purpose of the act was to avert political pressures and improprieties by unions in the burgeoning bureaucracies of the Roosevelt era.
The OSC said that an investigation ``concluded that during 1983 and 1984, you [the three union presidents] engaged in campaign activity in support of the presidential candidacy of Democrat Walter Mondale and against the reelection of Republican Ronald Reagan,'' in violation of the Hatch Act.
White House spokesmen forcefully denied charges that the board's findings were at attempt to retaliate because of support given Mondale.