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Union Leader Attacks Republicans

October 12, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared war Monday on an ``ugly, anti-poor, anti-working family″ Republican congressional majority as all signs pointed to an endorsement of Vice President Al Gore _ nudged along by President Clinton _ from the 13-million-member labor federation.

The endorsement, the AFL-CIO’s earliest since its 1983 nod to former Vice President Walter Mondale, would almost immediately kick into gear a $40-million mobilization meant as much to strengthen Gore as to wrest control of Congress from the Republicans and topple GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush.

``Outrage is right here in this hall! It is pounding in the heart of every trade unionist in this country as our perverted United States Congress continues to boost those who are up and kick those who are down,″ Sweeney howled to 1,000 union activists gathered for the biennial AFL-CIO convention.

Workers would flex their outrage, Sweeney promised, ``by taking back control of our government, by electing a working family president, and by taking a broom to the House.″

He slammed the GOP’s recently proposed tax cuts and balanced-budget plan to delay a tax credit for the working poor. Unions should be fired up, Sweeney added, by their success in 1998 in whittling the Republican majority in the House and sending ``Speaker Gingrich pouting into early retirement.″

Republican National Committee spokesman Mike Collins replied from Washington: ``The average working class man and woman is of no interest to these union bosses in their Gucci loafers and $600 suits in their downtown Washington luxury office suites.″

Union delegates seated at orderly rows of tables cheered House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt’s call for help putting Democrats in control in Washington ``so that we can get people _ union or non-union _ to have a fair shake in this country for their hard work and their productivity.″

The endorsement stakes grew so high in the days leading up to the convention that Clinton reached out to several labor leaders, placing calls to International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chief J.J. Barry, and to a mutual friend of Clinton’s and United Food and Commercial Workers President Doug Dority. In testimony to some feeling here that Gore had taken labor for granted, IBEW political director Rick Diegel said Clinton called Barry over the weekend to say thanks, apparently unaware that Barry remained undecided until Monday morning.

Clinton’s message, Dority said, was that the stakes had been ``so ginned up that we didn’t want it to appear that we were doing something that would hurt″ Gore.

After Sweeney’s own backroom lobbying, which continued into the hours just before his keynote speech, the endorsement of Gore finally appeared secure.

``I’m a firm believer in not counting my chickens until they hatch,″ Gore said from the campaign trail, although he had already made plans for a victorious acceptance speech at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Wednesday.

A disgruntled undercurrent among union delegates who felt bullied by the accelerated endorsement was palpable on the convention floor Monday. Paul Hunt, an airline grounds crewman with the Transportation Workers said the point should be ``to listen to all the issues first,″ and, he added, ``This could be a mistake in the long run.″

Electrical worker Joe Lubitz, from St. Paul, Minn., said, ``I want to put my efforts behind someone who can win and I don’t know enough about (Gore’s Democratic rival Bill) Bradley yet.″

But AFL-CIO officials said Bush’s runaway popularity in polls and ever-mounting bankroll lent urgency to the endorsement, which frees the labor group to begin attacking Bush’s record.

Gerry Shea, special assistant to Sweeney, said AFL-CIO focus group discussions with voters proved to labor chiefs that they could turn pro-Bush union voters just by explaining his record.

The endorsement scales were decisively tipped when 15 building and construction trades unions voted Monday to follow Dority’s 1.4 million UFCW members in giving Gore the early boost.

The United Auto Workers, Teamsters and Steelworkers remained opposed, saying candidates have not been clear on trade policy and union members haven’t yet focused enough to pick a favorite. Lobbying by Bradley had stoked such reluctance.

Holdouts do not represent enough votes to block an endorsement, which, under convention rules proposed by Sweeney, must be approved by unions representing two-thirds of the AFL-CIO’s 13 million members.

Opponents were weakened Monday when the 1.3-million-member Service Employees International Union decided to wait on endorsing Gore, but said it would abstain rather than block ``the way the bulk of the AFL-CIO is going.″

Votes on Wednesday by the AFL-CIO’s executive council and full convention would hand Gore an instant organizational advantage over Bradley in the nomination race. The organization’s political director, Steve Rosenthal, said efforts would begin right away in key states with early nominating contests, such as Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, California, Ohio and Michigan.

Bradley adviser Anita Dunn said Gore’s institutional advantage is nothing new and the Bradley campaign will continue to campaign for labor support.

Unlike the AFL-CIO’s $35-million campaign in 1996, which was almost all TV ads, the 2000 effort will focus intensely on leafleting, voter registration, issues education, phone banks and door-to-door campaigning.

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