Organized labor in Florida shows it still has some clout

This morning the St. Pete Times/Miami Herald hybrid team of Steve Bosquet and Marc Caputo add details in the machinations behind the scenes between Senate President Jeff Atwater and the AFL-CIO, which ultimately broke the logjam that allowed labor to endorse the rail proposal that the legislature approved earlier this week.

Their story- based on comments from Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson - reports that Atwater had an intense phone conversation with Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kapelousos on guaranteeing union protections.

``You will do this!'' Atwater told Kapelousos, according to Lawson's recollection. ``What are you trying to do? I've given everything I had on this. Day and night, I haven't been sleeping, and you are screwing me around. . . . If you don't do something, I'm going to lose this whole deal.''

Kapelousos did write a letter to Atwater, released Wednesday, in which DOT commits in writing to ``(1) eliminate the signal work from the scope of the current contract, (2) separately procure the signal work and (3) require that the bidders for the signal work be `rail employers' under the Federal Railroad Retirement Tax Act.''

Before the Legislature met last week, it had been thought that there were the votes in the Senate to pass the bill, as opposed to two previous attempts which broke down over concerns about liability with CSX.

But that's before the AFL-CIO took issue with the legislation, and with Atwater needing to get 21 votes in the 40 person body, several Senate Democrats had said they had to be comfortable that labor had been satisfied to support the bill.  The fact that several of them are running for higher office in 2010 was not an insignificant factor, where the support of labor is extremely important.

The Times/Herald quotes AFL-CIO President Mike Williams as saying that he doesn't have any illusions that labor had that much power over the past week, but did say:

`At this time, the house of labor in the state of Florida will never singularly guide and direct how legislation ends up and travels through that Capitol over there,'' Williams said from his office, a few blocks from the Capitol. ``But coupled with allies, we can make the difference."

When was the last time we read that here in the sunshine state?  Not too often in this Right To Work state.

Interestingly, two Bay area Senate Democrats, Arthenia Joyner and Charlie Justice, ultimately voted against the bill, with both saying that the union issue wasn't sufficient enough to overcome their concerns.

Justice, running for Congress next year, sounded the alarm regarding financial concerns, saying:

I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that puts my constituents on the hook for billions of dollars with no guarantee of federal, state or private partnerships. I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that puts the taxpayers of Florida on the hook with no equal financial responsibility from the corporations we will be subsidizing.

Sounds like that could have been Paula Dockery talking - then again, everyone running for office needs to show concerns about government spending, since that seems to be a major concern of the populace.

Justice doesn't expect to face any Democratic competition in the race for District 10 next year; not so for Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg, both engaged in what is considered to be one of the most competitive primary races in Florida next year.

Meanwhile, Florida is already reaping some benefits for their rail vote;  Senator Bill Nelson announced that Congress had agreed to spend $40 million to begin spending on SunRail in Orlando.  According to the Tribune, an additional $1.7 million will go towards "planning light rail" in Tampa,

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