By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HERSHEY — Locked in a tight re-election battle, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., told labor union members on Tuesday that he would fight to make it more difficult for companies that operate call centers to move jobs overseas.
He also said he would support efforts to crack down on currency manipulation by China.
While speaking to leaders of the Communication Workers of America trade union, Casey touted a bill he has proposed in the U.S. Senate that would make it more difficult for companies to move call centers overseas. The proposal would require companies with 50 or more employees to notify the Department of Labor at least four months before they move call center jobs to another country, but it would apply only to companies with 50 or more employees.
If they miss the deadline, the companies would face fines of $10,000 per day, and the Department of Labor would maintain a list of violators.
And any companies that did move jobs overseas would be ineligible for federal grants and loans.
“That’s a pretty reasonable proposal,” Casey said. “You ought to get some kind of notice.”
He added that there is nothing in the bill to actually prevent companies from moving jobs overseas, but requiring notification would make the process more public, and “that creates an incentive for them to have a second thought about it.”
Jim Conroy, campaign manager for Tom Smith, the Republican who is trying to unseat Casey in November, said Casey’s comments were nothing more than “political posturing” from a senator who has never passed a bill.
Conroy said Smith has a plan that would keep companies here at home by reducing taxes and regulations to grow the economy.
Edward Mooney, vice president of the local district for the Communications Workers of America, said call center jobs should remain in the United States where workers are properly trained to deal with secure client information.
More generally, Casey said he would support an effort to punish China for currency manipulation, a point that has been frequently made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during his campaign.
Romney has promised to label China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office if he wins the election, but President Barack Obama has warned about the consequences of a potential trade war with the United States’ largest creditor.
Casey did not offer specifics on China, but said unfair trade had cost 100,000 jobs in Pennsylvania for the past decade.
“All we’re saying is that if China or any other country cheats on their currency, there will be consequences,” Casey said.
Conroy said Smith held the same view of China but would oppose the tariffs that Casey favors because they would trigger a trade war.
“China is cheating, and we won’t tolerate it,” Conroy said.
Casey addressed the annual meeting of the Communication Workers of America at the luxurious Hotel Hershey, which is owned by the famed chocolate company. The few hundred union members gathered at the posh resort since Sunday are representing the 47,000 workers in the district that stretches from Pennsylvania to Virginia, Mooney said.
Rooms in the four-star hotel start at $300 per night during October. The conference is paid for with union dues collected from members’ paychecks.
Mooney said the union backed Casey because he is “a trustworthy, honorable man who supports workers’ right in the country.”
The political wing of the Communication Workers union gave $5,000 to Casey’s campaign in 2006 when he unseated then-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., but has not contributed to Casey during the current cycle, according to data from the FEC and the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
Asked about the race, which is suddenly gaining national attention as Smith has closed to within five points of Casey in several polls, the incumbent senator said he was always expecting a close race because Smith had vast financial resources to tap.
“It’s a tough state, I’m actually not that surprised,” he said. “I knew months ago this was going to be a close race.”
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Smith has $7 million on hand, more than the $5 million that Casey has to spend.
But Casey might soon be getting some outside help.
Smart Media Group, a media planning and ad buying firm based in Alexandria, Va., announced Tuesday via Twitter that a pro-Democratic Super PAC was buying $515,000 worth of ads in the Pittsburgh market to boost Casey’s chances of retaining the seat.
Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent for breaking news.