Organized Labor Not Organized for Any of the Democrats in Michigan
WASHINGTON (AP) _ There will be no organized union boost behind a single candidate in Saturday’s Democratic caucuses in Michigan, a state where union members can wield more clout than almost anywhere else.
While national labor leaders are assuming Michael Dukakis will be the eventual nominee, they are prevented from endorsing him by what appears to be growing rank-and-file support for Jesse Jackson, who has gotten more union votes than any of the other candidates in primaries so far. Richard Gephardt also has considerable union support.
None of the Democratic candidates appears to have won the hearts - or votes - of a majority of the state’s 750,000 rank-and-file union workers, nearly half of them members of the United Auto Workers.
AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland has held out the possibility of an endorsement before the Democratic National Convention in July if it appears that two-thirds of the labor federation’s 14.2 million members have agreed on a favorite.
So far they haven’t. Exit polls from the March 8 Southern primaries showed Jackson holding the greatest support among union members at 37 percent, followed by Dukakis at 25 percent.
″There’s not going to be an endorsement before the covention,″ Communications Workers of America President Morton Bahr, who also is an AFL- CIO vice president, said this week.
Despite UAW President Owen Bieber’s known affection for Gephardt, the union itself has carefully maintained an official position of neutrality in accord with AFL-CIO guidelines.
So have the other big unions in Michigan - the Teamsters with 72,000 members, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees with 60,000, the Service Employees with 27,000 and the United Steel Workers with 24,000.
But that ″neutrality″ by the international unions hasn’t prevented their former leaders and the hundreds of local union officers in Michigan from taking sides.
Bill Marshall, former president of the Michigan state labor federation, endorsed Gephardt on Friday. Former UAW President Doug Fraser endorsed Dukakis earlier this month.
″It’s kind of schizophrenic, said Jon Ogar, a spokeman for the Michigan State Labor Federation. ″Most of the unions here have people in everybody’s camp.″
AFSCME, for example, is running separate sets of get-out-the-vote phone banks on behalf of both Dukakis, the clear favorite of their national leaders, and Jackson, who has the endorsement of the union’s top officials in Detroit and Michigan.
Half the presidents of the 40 locals representing about 85 percent of the Communications Workers of America’s 20,000 members in the state have endorsed Dukakis. But the other 20 locals appear equally divided between Jackson and Gephardt.
″I personally came out for Gephardt but I’ve taken a lot of heat for it because he supported President Reagan’s tax law,″ said Robert Shukwit, president of CWA Local 4008 in Detroit.
″But I don’t think we’ve seen the candidate yet,″ Shukwit added, indicating a lingering dream among many trade unionists that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo might emerge as an alternative.
Meanwhile, the UAW remains the most important labor voice in Michigan. And it has taken several steps to dissociate itself from the endorsement its 10,000 members in Iowa gave Gephardt in February.
For example, the union is running TV commercials in Michigan stressing a need for an activist government. Prior to the Iowa caucuses, it ran ads in that state focusing on the trade issue Gephardt has championed.
One UAW official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Bieber, the union’s president, probably believes Dukakis is going to be the nominee and doesn’t want to stir trouble with him.
At the same time, endorsing Dukakis would infuriate Jackson loyalists among blacks, about 25 percent of the UAW’s membership, and Arabs, a large contingent of its Ford workers in Dearborn, the official said.
Nonetheless, another union official predicted that Gephardt will fare much better in Saturday’s caucuses than he has in polls over the past two weeks in the state, which has lost 400,000 union jobs to imports since 1982. That official mentioned an internal poll showing Gephardt holding a narrow lead over Jackson with Dukakis a distant third among union members.