Gov. Phil Bredesen said Thursday that his opposition to a congressional measure making it easier for unions to organize was one of the problems that surfaced when he was being considered by the Obama administration for a slot as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.
The governor told Rotary Club of Chattanooga members that, although he has "not gotten too deeply involved" in the issue of the Federal Employee Free Choice Act, "I do not happen to be a fan of that at all."
As the business-oriented group applauded, Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, alluded to having been briefly considered by Democrat President Obama for the job.
"You remember when I was being considered briefly for a post in Washington," he said. "That particular view was one of my problems."
The proposed Federal Employee Free Choice Act would let company workers chose to form a union when a majority of employees sign a card requesting one. Currently, employers can require a secret-ballot election run by the National Labor Relations Board.
Efforts to reach state House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville were unsuccessful. Mr. Turner is a pro-union firefighter who supports the federal legislation.
Liberal health care advocates also opposed the governor's selection as Health and Human Services secretary, citing his cutting 170,000 Tennesseans off TennCare.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bredesen told the Times Free Press that he got another call from the White House when he recently hesitated to accept $141 million in federal economic stimulus funds to help laid-off workers because it would require the state to change some state laws regarding unemployment.
That was the only area of the estimated $5 billion in federal stimulus funds coming to the state that he questioned, the governor noted. He decided to accept it.
"Look, this whole thing about not accepting stimulus money has gotten off into politics, a couple of Republicans running for president ... Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal, talking about how they're not going to take it," the governor said. "The fact I wanted to read the fine print got my picture next to those guys in The New York Times and a call from the White House, wondering what I was doing. That's perfectly fine."
He said his hesitation came over requirements that the state add unemployment benefits. They will come to about $30 million a year and will not require additional taxes for another five years, even at today's high unemployment levels, Gov. Bredesen said.
"I think it's a good call right now to accept the funds," he said. "If Republicans don't agree with that, they're certainly welcome to make their arguments as well. And I'm happy to have my feet held to the fire."
Some Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, have voiced concerns about the move but have indicated they want to study the matter further.
Deb Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, recently said preliminary figures from the Bredesen administration indicate "it's not going to put an undue cost on the system compared to what we were going to get."