From email@example.com Fri Sep 1 10:43:16 2000
AFL-CIO leader pledges support for Gore campaign
By Ann McFeatters, The Blade, 30 August 2000
WASHINGTON - AFL-CIO president John Sweeney estimates his organization will spend between $40 million and $45 million this election to try to get Al Gore elected, win back the House for Democrats, and influence legislation.
He said that labor's paramount goal is to "strengthen Social Security and Medicare," meaning it is in hot opposition to Texas Gov. George W. Bush's proposal to let workers privately invest some of their payroll taxes.
"We are going to run this election around our issues," Mr. Sweeney vowed yesterday, citing Social Security, health care and prescription drugs, education, and fair trade.
The Democratic National Committee is expected to introduce an ad campaign on Social Security after Labor Day, arguing that under Mr. Bush's plan some Americans would not get the minimum benefits they receive now.
Despite labor's anger with Vice President Gore over his support of free trade, especially permanent trade relations with China, the AFL-CIO is working as hard for him through get-out-the-vote drives, education, and grass roots work, as it has ever worked for a presidential candidate.
For one reason, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush agree that trade with China should be open, although the AFL-CIO argues that it should not be until labor standards and environmental controls are in place.
However, Mr. Gore hopes to get the support of the Teamsters, and on his left flank is fighting Ralph Nader for the hearts of many union members. Just as Mr. Bush boasts he is a "reformer with results," Mr. Gore's unofficial slogan is that he will "fight for working families."
Labor Day is the traditional start of the final race to the November elections. In his annual pre-Labor Day news conference, Mr. Sweeney said unions learned their lesson in 1994 - that when their members stayed away from the polls, "Newt Gingrich got control" of the House.
In 1994, union members made up only 13 per cent of the electorate and Democrats lost the House and the Senate. Two years later union members made up nearly a fourth of the electorate and Democrats picked up seats. This year the AFL-CIO has 70 field representatives concentrating on 71 House races.
As a consequence, the AFL-CIO spent $35 million in the next two-year election cycle, culminating in its all-out support for Bill Clinton in 1996, even though unions opposed his stand on trade. This year Republicans are counting on a $100 million ad campaign to try to spur more people to register to vote Republican.
Mr. Sweeney said the union movement, which suffered a steady decline in membership until 1997, is back up to 16.5 million members. But that still is not as high as 1994 when membership reached 16.7 million. The AFL-CIO's organizing goal is 1 million new members a year.
Membership increased 265,000 in 1999 and Mr. Sweeney said the AFL-CIO, which has 68 member unions, is heartened by outcomes of the recently concluded Verizon strike, through which 87,000 employees won higher wages, the Boeing strike, and the Justice for Janitors strike.
Mr. Sweeney was skittish about detailing how much gets spent for what in an election year but stressed that "almost none" of its money will go directly to candidates and that "we'll be outspent 11-to-1 by big business. We'll never match the money being spent by the opposition."
Corporate America and the union movement dueled head-to-head in 1996, with corporations giving large amounts in so-called soft-money donations to the Republican National Committee and labor spending millions on so-called issue ads, which stop just short of advocating a specific candidate.
This year labor's might will be felt not on the airwaves but through "our people power," Mr. Sweeney said. The aim is to use human contact to urge every union member to vote.
Beginning at noon today through Sept. 6, the AFL-CIO is sponsoring a Labor Day "festival" on the Internet at www.workingfamilies.com.
The site features electronic cards, links to voter information and candidate voting records, links to the candidates, voter registration, music, clips of celebrities, such as Martin Sheen, endorsing unions, coloring books, and games such as smashing the CEO's head and playing "where's the health insurance" shell game. The AFL-CIO estimates that 60 per cent of union members have personal computers and three-fourths of those have Internet access.
The idea behind the web site, says the AFL-CIO's Denise Mitchell, is to communicate better with members and, more broadly, to try to get rid of the anti-union sentiment that the AFL-CIO believes former President Reagan caused when he shut down the air controllers union.
The AFL-CIO has a "working women vote" campaign to argue for equal pay, health care, safe pensions, and control over work hours, based on the premise working women are swamped between work and family obligations. Politicians are being asked to attend "Ask a Working Woman" forums.
The AFL-CIO and the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, citing voters' concern about "values" this election, are sponsoring "Labor Day worship services" as part of a Labor in the Pulpits program. An estimated 650 congregations are planning services Monday.
The AFL-CIO hopes to put 2,000 union members up for elective office Nov. 7. Two years ago 620 union members ran for office and the AFL-CIO said 420 were elected.
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