- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

The United States' largest labor unions claimed credit yesterday for the cliffhanger in the presidential election.

An AFL-CIO poll showed that a record 26 percent of all voters were from union households, siding with Vice President Al Gore by a wide margin.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the unions' efforts to register voters from among their members and convince them to cast their ballots produced "one of the most remarkable moments in American political history."

Their get-out-the-vote efforts included shutting down auto plants in Michigan to allow United Auto Workers members to vote, helping to deliver 18 electoral votes for Mr. Gore. During the campaign, AFL-CIO volunteers made more than 8 million phone calls to encourage their members to vote, Mr. Sweeney said at a post-election news conference at the federation's downtown headquarters.

The AFL-CIO, a federation of the nation's major labor unions, said union voters preferred Mr. Gore to Texas Gov. George W. Bush 63 percent to 32 percent. Nonunion households voted predominantly for Mr. Bush, the union poll showed. The poll was conducted by Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

"Union members made the difference in state after state Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Washington," Mr. Sweeney said.

The AFL-CIO figures were disputed by Republican National Committee officials who said their figures show that Mr. Gore beat Mr. Bush among union voters by the slightly lower figure of 60 percent to 36 percent.

"The truth is there are two union movements in America today," said Mark Pfeifle, Republican National Committee spokesman. "You got the traditional industrial workers, like the Teamsters, the electrical workers, the steel workers, the auto workers and the transportation workers. That's offset by the other union members, such as the school teachers and government clerks."

Mr. Pfeifle said that professional union members vote Republican at higher rates than the industrial workers polled by the AFL-CIO.

"The main point behind that is that the Washington labor bosses must start putting working people's money where their support is," Mr. Pfeifle said. "When it comes to industrial labor unions, that support is with Republicans."

A Los Angeles Times national exit poll reported results similar to those cited by the Republicans, showing that about three-fifths of union voters voted for Mr. Gore. President Clinton won nearly identical union votes in both 1992 and 1996.

No one disputed that labor was making an unprecedented effort to support its candidates. Although most of the unions' effort was directed at union members in key states, they also called or visited members of traditional Democratic stronghold communities, such as blacks.

Mr. Sweeney said 20,000 volunteers in New York City were calling union members or giving them rides to the polls in a bid to get them to vote. In Philadelphia, when early election results showed low voter turnout in the black community, volunteers went door-to-door to encourage residents to vote.

Mr. Sweeney said the 55 volunteers in Philadelphia who tried to mobilize the black community might have helped push the majority vote in Pennsylvania in favor of Mr. Gore when it appeared Mr. Bush was about to overtake him.

Among state elections, Mr. Sweeney said union voters produced victories that defeated school-voucher initiatives in California and Michigan. Union members preferred Democrats to Republicans for the House of Representatives 70 percent to 29 percent, the AFL-CIO said.

Both Michigan and Pennsylvania the latter with 23 electoral votes were considered important battleground states for the presidential candidates. Mr. Gore won a majority of the vote in both of them. In Michigan, 61 percent of union voters preferred Mr. Gore to 35 percent for Mr. Bush, the AFL-CIO said. In Pennsylvania, 65 percent of union voters preferred Mr. Gore to 32 percent for Mr. Bush.

The top issues for union workers were Social Security, economy and jobs and health care, the AFL-CIO poll showed.

Mr. Sweeney downplayed the role of the National Rifle Association to split the union vote in predominantly blue-collar states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. Only one in 10 union households considered gun control to be a significant issue during the election, the AFL-CIO said. The NRA has endorsed Mr. Bush as president.

"It's clear that union members exercised the unmatched power we hold as a united political force in this nation," Mr. Sweeney said.

In the 1992 presidential election, only 19 percent of all voters were from union households, the AFL-CIO said. In 1996, the unions increased the figure to 23 percent. The 26 percent figure reached this year helped Mr. Gore and other pro-union candidates at rates better than predicted in pre-election polls, Mr. Sweeney said.

He said the large number of union voters was surprisingly good considering that organizations that oppose labor issues outspent the unions by a 15-to-one margin. The unions' get-out-the-vote campaign made up for the spending difference, he said.

"Yesterday's election will have real impact on real working people in this nation," Mr. Sweeney said. "The incredibly ambitious mobilization effort during this election cycle gives us a glimpse of how we can do that."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide