Unions Asked to Delay 2000 Endorsements
AFL-CIO Seeks to Safeguard Support for Legislative Agenda
By Frank Swoboda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 1999; Page A15
MIAMI BEACH, Feb. 18
The AFL-CIO today urged all member unions to withhold presidential endorsements until August, a move labor leaders hope will keep maximum support for their legislative agenda in Congress.
The federation's 54-member Executive Council approved a resolution urging "all its
national affiliates to refrain from making any endorsements of candidates" until the
council's meeting in Chicago in early August.
"Our aim is hopefully to make a decision at the August council meeting in the form of a recommendation to the convention in October," AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney
told a news conference.
On Wednesday, AFL-CIO leaders approved spending $46 million over the next two years to ensure Democratic control of the House of Representatives and build up union support for the Democratic presidential nominee, so the political leanings of the nominee would be no mystery. But Sweeney and other officials suggested that union leaders want to hold off the endorsement to exert pressure on key issues before Congress. For instance, Sweeney, in response to a question, said he would expect Vice President Gore to openly express any differences with President Clinton over such issues as trade legislation. "I would hope that to the extent the differences go our way, he [Gore] would speak out if he wants to get the support of American workers," Sweeney said.
Unions helped defeat the White House's request for enhanced negotiating authority on trade deals, known as "fast track." Sweeney said the union would again oppose fast track unless the White House made a proposal that permitted linking trade negotiations to such issues as labor standards and human rights -- a position opposed by Republican leaders in Congress.
Sweeney added that labor was going to "fight as hard as we can" to get a trade proposal it liked and made it clear that he expected Gore to side with the unions if they differed with the president.
The federation's request that member unions hold off on presidential endorsements came too late for two of the AFL-CIO's 73 unions. Last month, the International Association of Firefighters endorsed Gore and last Saturday the executive board of the Communications Workers of America voted to recommend Gore's endorsement when the union holds its July convention.
Meanwhile, the only other announced Democratic candidate -- former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley -- brought his presidential campaign here today to pitch his candidacy to the labor leaders. He spent much of the day meeting one on one with key union leaders and then with the entire executive council for about a half-hour.
After meeting with the council, the former New York Knicks basketball star admitted that his quest was an uphill fight and that to date not a single union has endorsed him. But, he said of the election: "It's a year away. It's an uphill battle, and it's a fight worth making."
Bradley was accompanied by Phil Jackson, a former Knicks teammate and former coach of the Chicago Bulls. Bradley said he did remind the labor leaders that he was a founder of the National Basketball Players Association and served eight years as shop steward for the Knicks.
Organizer, Global Trade Watch/CTC