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By J. Philip Bloomer

News & Gazette Staff Writer

CHAMPAIGN -- The political director of the AFL-CIO's executive board in Champaign County is facing expulsion from office for statements he made in support of Ralph Nader.

Dave Johnson of Champaign said charges were brought against him at last months executive board meeting by Stephen Brewer , business agent for Plumbers and steamfitters Local 149.

Johnson is charged with " violation of oath of office" because he publicly backed Nader , in contrast to the AFL-CIO's stated endorsement of Al Gore for president. "I have a right to my opinion and I always made it clear I wasnít expressing the position of the AFL-CIO," Johnson said.

A hearing on the charges will be conducted by the executive board on Jan 17. The board consists of county AFL-CIO President Duane Lybarger and seven other representatives of various unions.

Brewer did not return phone messages, but in the complaint he filed with the executive board, he referred to comments made by Johnson that were reported in the News-Gazette in October and on WCIA-TV in November. The media reports were based on events held by the Green Party..

Johnson said news of the charges has gained wide circulation, mainly through Internet listserves. He was interviewed on a San Francisco radio station Sunday evening. ì Iíve received hundreds of e-mails in support from all over the country and other countries too, Johnson said..

The incident reflects growing divisions within local labor organizations, divisions apparent on a national level as well as factions split off from the Democratic platform as a result of President Clintonís support of NAFTA, trade with China and the World Trade Organization..

Those and other Democratic positions are eroding jobs and worker rights, Johnson said. Johnson was involved in a contentious election the first of the year for the political directorís job. There was disagreement within the executive board over support for striking workers in Decatur, as well as over an endorsement for Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite for state representative from the 103rd district, Johnson said..

Some board members, including him, were opposed to Satterthwaite because of his role in closing the University of Illinois Fire Department, which Urbana Firefighters opposed and his opposition to the living wage movement..

There are more conservative elements of the AFL-CIO leadership that don't like what Dave's been doing ," said Peter Miller, a local labor activist. " And what he has been doing is trying to make the labor movement more relevant for the rank-and-file.".

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