SEIU Talks EFCA With Specter–Says It’s ‘Critical’ Issue

As we noted earlier, Sen. Arlen Specter met with senior SEIU officials this afternoon, just one day after his most likely competitor for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania–Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)–met with the group’s president Andy Stern.

One of those officials was Eileen Connelly, Executive Director of SEIU’s Pennsylvania State Council, who, reached by phone, said the meeting “was all about EFCA”. “We didn’t really talk about health care,” she said.

Specter’s support for both issues, but particularly the Employee Free Choice Act, has been flagging. Before he became a Democrat, he disavowed his prior support for EFCA, and then reiterated that position after switching parties last week.

“I think that part of our concern is–the Employee Free Choice Act is a critical issue for us,” Connelly said. “It’s why we’ve been talking to Specter, whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat.”

I asked her whether the Pennsylvania SEIU would consider getting involved in a Democratic primary if one of the candidates took stronger position on that issue. She said it was a bit too early to make big calls like that but that “there’s nothing automatic for anybody.”

“I don’t want to say that it’s all or nothing,” Connelly added, “but it’s very critical.”Between pressure from unions and from Sestak, Specter may be getting the message. At a press conference this afternoon, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), EFCA’s lead sponsor, said he and Specter were making early progress toward a compromise on the bill. Their staffs, he said, “have been working diligently over the last several days to get everything ready for a few of us to discuss…. And now there are a few things at the member level – at the Senate level – to see if we can discuss and see if we can shake hands on.”

Sestak has been threatening to challenge Specter if Specter doesn’t shift his views on a number of issues and, more critically, demonstrate reliability on them. Specter switched parties after determining that he couldn’t defeat his likely, conservative challenger, Pat Toomey, in the Republican primary, but may find himself confronted with a mirror-image challenge (though less threatening) from the left now that he’s a Democrat.

Toomey, for his part, may have had more institutional support within the GOP before he knocked Specter into the Democratic Party. Now there’s at least some chance that Republicans will buck conservatives and back the more moderate former Governor Tom Ridge–who in one poll leads Toomey by a wide margin–should he choose to run.