The visit of the stars of "The West Wing" to Capitol Hill to support the Employee Free Choice Act triggered a scathing response from opponents of the bill, including Brian Worth, who heads the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.
He said in a statement, "It's ironic that the same actors who vote by secret ballot when choosing the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild, are here in DC lobbying to take the secret ballot away from millions of American workers. More than anyone, the creative community in Hollywood should understand that free speech and the right to self expression should be protected. I guess these actors believe that empowering labor bosses is more important than protecting a fundamental tenet of our democracy. It must be nice to have the luxury of applying free speech principles when it's convenient."
SAG responded with its own statement: "As Mr. Worth and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace know, and as the Wall Street Journal recently confirmed, the Employee Free Choice Act does not remove the secret ballot provision from the process.
"It does give all workers the opportunity to join a union without the threat of employer coercion or intimidation.
"SAG members Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff along with 120,000 of their fellow members across the country are powerful voices for the rights of working people because they are union members and know firsthand the value of the union card.
"As proponents of free speech and free expression, which they exercised today, these actors and union members support the right of every worker to join a union. That’s not hypocrisy, it’s principled advocacy.”
The three thesps faced criticism from opponents of the Act for being "out of touch, Hollywood elite," but that didn't stop the trio from drawing a host of coverage that focused as much as their balance of humor and politics as it did with the issue at hand.,
Referring to the presence of Sheen, who played President Josiah Bartlet, Whitford called his character "his Rahm." "If you want to talk to him, you talk to me first. But I was on a network White House, so I can't swear I guess."
Then Whitford carried it a step further and told a Rahm Emanuel joke. "How do you ask Rahm what time it is? 'Excuse me, do you know what time it is, or do I just go to hell?'"
Whitford argued that the Free Choice Act would be "not only fair for the workers, but good for the economy."
Sheen, meanwhile, ruminated on life after "The West Wing," which went off in 2006, telling the gathering that he's now the "former acting president of the United States."
He told a story of growing up in Ohio and, at age 13, forming a union of caddies at the local Country Club. "The strike lasted 48 hours and the union 72," he quipped.
Then he got a bit more serious. "All too often workers are porrly treated when the try to gain a voice in the workplace."
The Free Choice Act is currently stalled after some of its supporters, including Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) withdrew their backing.
"These were great disappointments, but the fight doesn't end there," Sheen said.