Christine Stuart photo
Tom Foley (Christine Stuart photo)

Tom Foley’s day in Rocky Hill didn’t go as planned. During a campaign stop, he faced new union-busting allegations over his record at a Pennsylvania manufacturing company. Meanwhile, the national AFL-CIO head appeared elsewhere in town to verbally attack him.

It was the second time in a month Foley, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, has been questioned about a strike at TB Woods in Chambersburg, Pa.

Foley owned the company for 17 years before selling it for $40 million in 2007.

News reports detailed an ugly battle in the early 1990s with 260 members of the United Auto Workers Union Local 695. The vote to reject a contract — which included a 50-cents-per-hour pay raise — and to go on strike was decided by a slim 152-140 margin. Most of the union members never crossed the picket line and eventually faded away, but not after a contentious battle with Foley, which was detailed in a report by Ken Dixon of the CT Post.

At Foley’s visit to Fair Weather Acres farm stand in Rocky Hill on Tuesday, he was questioned about why he didn’t allow the workers to return.

“The ones who chose [not] to come back obviously didn’t come back, but they had a personal choice and many of them did come back,” Foley said.

Foley maintained that the workers got bad advice from their union. The CT Post reported that the union leaders had recommended the workers accept the 50-cent an hour raise.

“The employees got very bad advice from their union. Some chose to return to work, some didn’t and the ones who didn’t lost their jobs and that’s unfortunate. But when a union puts their employees at risk by recommending a strike to them, they’re at risk. If things don’t work out for them that’s the union’s fault, not the employer’s fault.”

Hugh McQuaid photo
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Meanwhile, at a press conference across town, national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election his union’s top priority. He labeled Foley “the personification of the corporate agenda.”

“He’s a CEO who sinks companies, destroys jobs, makes war on his employees and walks away with his arms full of money,” Trumka said an hour before Foley’s press conference at the AFL-CIO’s offices in Rocky Hill. “In my opinion that’s a loser of a CEO. That’s a failed CEO. Tom Foley is what is wrong with America right now.”

Trumka addressed a handful of Connecticut labor leaders at the state’s AFL-CIO offices in Rocky Hill. It was campaign stop for, Malloy, a first-term Democrat in a tough re-election fight against his 2010 Republican rival. Malloy was not in attendance.

“Our top priority is to keep Dan Malloy as governor of the state of Connecticut,” Trumka said.

During a contentious press conference, Foley defended his record as a business executive and the relationship he would have with the state’s workers if elected.

“I’ve got no problem with unions. I’m pro-worker. I’m not pro-union or anti-union but I’m pro-worker and will work fine with the employees,” he said.

But Trumka touted pro-labor policies signed by Malloy during his first term like paid sick time off for some workers and increases in the state minimum wage. He said labor activists would be working to raise Malloy’s support every day until Election Day.

“That’s really a lesson that Democratic and Republican candidates all across the country should really pay close attention to. That if you want to run for public office, stand up for people, stand up for working families,” he said.

Trumka said he expected the governor’s race to be close until Election Day. Malloy beat Foley by less than 1 percent of the vote in 2010 and a Quinnipiac University poll released last week found the two candidates in a dead heat among likely voters.

“No matter what anybody tells you, the governor’s race in Connecticut is going to come down to the wire. It’s going to be very, very tight. So voter turnout will be the deciding factor,” he said.

Trumka said labor activists are working phone banks, spreading leaflets, canvassing neighborhoods and talking with their co-workers at job sites in an effort turn out the vote for Malloy in November.

“Working families are going to push Gov. Malloy to the finish line by talking to voters every single day and evening and night between now and Election Day,” he said.

Labor unions have also contributed substantial funds to Connecticut Forward, a Super PAC supporting Malloy. As of this week, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had contributed $900,000, the Service Employees International Union COPE had contributed $500,000, and American Federation of Teacher Solidarity contributed another $500,000.