Gore Vows Clinton Will Veto GOP's OSHA Bill
Feb. 20, 1996
BAL HARBOUR, Fla. (AP) _ Seeking to shore up labor's support in this election year, Vice President Al Gore promised AFL-CIO leaders that President Clinton will veto a Republican bill unions say would cripple the enforcement powers of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Gore said he and Clinton were counting on the federation's support, and he credited AFL-CIO President John Sweeney's new administration for the Democratic victory in Oregon's special Senate election last month.
``Organized labor put Ron Wyden over the top in that Senate race for a seat that has not been held by a Democrat for 34 years,'' Gore said at the federation's annual convention. ``John Sweeney's team put a lot of people on the ground in key roles organizing voters and getting the message out in that mail-in election campaign.
``President Clinton and I want to continue that kind of a partnership with the AFL-CIO,'' he said.
While Clinton's support for the North American Free Trade Agreement angered many union officials, the Republican sweep of Congress in 1994 has forced them to set the issue aside.
The federation has pledged to spend $35 million to back Democrats in 1996, and the AFL-CIO is expected to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket, possibly next month.
Gore singled out a bill sponsored by Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., that would target 50 percent of OSHA's funds that go toward consultation, training and education programs and limit enforcement of safety laws.
``We have thousands of work-related deaths each year, tens of thousands of workplace injuries,'' Gore said. ``This legislation which has suddenly arisen in the Republican Congress would really undermine and devastate OSHA's ability to do its job.''
Ballenger's bill would allow employers to fix safety and health violations before being fined or cited, except when serious injury or death occurred, and eliminate the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., has sponsored a similar measure.
``The president will veto any bill that closely resembles'' these bills, Gore said.
Gore also repeated Clinton's veto threat for other GOP measures he said would compromise workers. His brief remarks to reporters following his meeting with AFL-CIO officials emphasized the wage and job security issues that are moving to the forefront early in the presidential campaign year.
``That's what the election is all about in 1996: whether wages continue to grow, or stagnate,'' Gore said.
Earlier, the executive council of the 13.1 million-member federation approved a major new organizing campaign that forms the backbone of Sweeney's plan to re-establish labor's clout as a political and social force.
``Unless we can build and strengthen the labor movement, we are not going to be able to have a strong political voice,'' Sweeney said.
The $20 million campaign kicks off with an effort to place 1,000 trained union organizers in the field this summer. Recognizing the changing demographics of the work force, federation officials say they want more women and minority organizers. Many will be college students on break.
The AFL-CIO also wants more of its members involved in church and community groups.
``We want to build better relations in local communities,'' said Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice president. ``If we don't, it will be very hard to get that community to support a union issue.''
Sweeney suggested there would be an emphasis on organizing in the South, where unions have been fighting to gain a foothold among low-wage laborers. The Los Angeles area is another likely target.
While Sweeney hopes to see some immediate return on this investment, he and others stress that the organizing campaign is a long-term project.
``Corporate America, with the flick of a switch, can lay off 40,000 workers,'' said Richard Bensinger, the AFL-CIO's organizing department. ``We don't have a magic answer. But in the long run, I think we have a lot more to offer American workers.''
The four-day convention ends Thursday.