Union plumbers heckle and jeer 'Joe the Plumber' at rally
Rachel Oswald
Published: Tuesday March 31, 2009

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Despite the praise heaped on Joe Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," by conservatives as an exemplary blue-collar working man, many in the plumbing industry are none too pleased -- and they're letting it be known.

Wurzelbacher, a Toledo man first made famous by Sen. John McCain during the final presidential debate in 2008, appeared in Pittsburgh Monday night to rally opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. The act is ardently opposed by the business lobby because it would make it easier for workers to unionize.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's James O'Toole on Monday covered a preemptive rebuttal to Wurzelbacher's remarks by union officials at the headquarters of Pittsburgh Plumbers Local 27.

"It's definitely a slap in the face to every real plumber out there," said Thomas Bigley, the business manager of the Pittsburgh Plumbers, of Wurzelbacher, adding that he should be called "Joe the impostor," as he is not a licensed plumber.

Wurzelbacher's actual appearance at a hotel rally Monday night was met by a mixture of cheers from fellow conservatives and boos from union members who managed to infiltrate the anti-EFCA rally.

As O'Toole reported on Tuesday, the crowd of approximately 100 attendees was divided between conservative supporters and those there to jeer Wurzelbacher with catcalls of "liar" and "pay your taxes," as well as a few more choice words.

"Mr. Wurzelbacher appeared unperturbed by the catcalls as the impromptu debates within the audience grew heated, though never violent, under the gaze of several Green Tree police officers," wrote O'Toole.

Wurzelbacher admitted that he is not a state-certified plumber in Ohio but asserted that he is in fact a working plumber with many years on the job.

"The mainstream media is powerful. They'll destroy you if they can. ... I'm a plumber, brother," he said. "A lot of people seem to respond to what I have to say. And what I'm saying is very simple, I'm just regurgitating what my mother and father taught me."

Wurzelbacher did receive an appearance fee from the anti-labor group, Americans for Prosperity, for his remarks at the Pittsburgh rally and will receive fees as well for anti-EFCA appearances on Tuesday in Harrisburg and Philadelphia. He declined to divulge the amount of the fee, saying, it was "nobody's business."

"The public loves Joe the Plumber," said Americans for Prosperity spokesperson, Mary Ellen Burke, to The Plum Line's Greg Sargent. "They see him as a role model."

Writes Sargent, "Asked whether Joe the Plumber had any particular knowledge or expertise about EFCA that might explain the decision to enlist him, Burke said that he was being enlisted to provide a 'grassroots perspective' and 'the working perspective' on the measure. Pressed on whether Joe the Plumber has any particular claim to being a spokesperson on the issue, Burke replied that 'he represents the American worker.'"

According to O'Toole, Wurzelbacher dismissed speculation that he would respond to a draft movement for him to run for Congress next year.

The Employee Free Choice Act is unlikely to pass in the current Congress. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) recently switched his allegiance on the measure, saying he would vote with Republicans to filibuster it. Specter faces a tight primary race with a conservative challenger, and has been told by the national Republican fundraising apparatus that he must oppose the measure to receive national GOP aid.

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