Joe the Plumber was on his way to Pittsburgh today and union plumbers aren't happy about it.
Joe Wurzelbacher, the Toledo man who became a conservative icon when Sen. John S. McCain made him the offstage star of the final presidential debate last year, was to appear at the Green Tree Radisson Hotel at an evening rally in opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, known to its detractors as card check. In a preemptive rebuttal, union officials gathered this afternoon at the headquarters of Plumbers Local 27 in Coraopolis, denouncing Mr. Wurzelbacher and calling for the enactment of the measure, which is designed to make it easier for unions to organize.
The dueling bouts of political theater were puzzling, however, as many analysts saw the bill as dead for this session of Congress after Sen. Arlen Specter's announcement earlier this month that he would oppose the bill. Mr. Specter's vote was regarded as essential for supporters to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate to overcome an anticipated filibuster against the hotly contested legislation.
Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, wasn't ready to concede that point.
"The only organization that can rebuild the middle class in this country is labor," he said during the brief press conference. "We believe, this session, it will be passed and will be signed by the president."
He insisted that labor would continue to lobby lawmakers, including Mr. Specter, hoping to reverse the bill's apparent setback.
Thomas Bigley, the business manager of Pittsburgh Plumbers Local 27, said he was angered by the post-debate notoriety conferred on Mr. Wurzlebacher.
"It's definitely a slap in the face to every real plumber out there," he said, arguing that the he should be regarded as "Joe the imposter," as he is not in fact a licensed plumber.
The lack of a union card, or professional certification, hasn't impaired Mr. Wurzelbacher's Warholesque road to fame. Since the Hampstead debate, in fact, he has evolved into something of a public policy polymath.
In recent months, he's traveled to Israel to cover the conflict in Gaza, offered his analysis of the president's stimulus package, been touted as a potential candidate for Congress and even co-authored a book, "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.''
Tonight's event in Green Tree is the first of a series of appearances across Pennsylvania designed to highlight the card-check issue and keep the pressure on Mr. Specter to maintain his opposition to the bill that's been described as the chief legislative priority of labor.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.