- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Unions spent a record amount and organized their most aggressive grass-roots political campaign effort ever for the 2004 election.

But their best wasn’t good enough to help Democrats reclaim the White House, leaving labor leaders to agonize over their diminishing influence.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said yesterday the message to the dwindling ranks of organized labor is clear: “We have to do more.”

The AFL-CIO spent about $45 million in 16 battleground states to print and distribute campaign literature, help union locals set up phone banks, train people to monitor polling places and fund other grass-roots efforts.

The 1.7 million-member Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) campaign spending reached $65 million, three times more than it spent on the presidential election four years ago to support Vice President Al Gore. The union dispatched about 2,000 volunteers to 14 battleground states.

The massive investment by unions helped them generate support. Mr. Sweeney said union workers knocked on 6 million doors and passed out 32 million pieces of campaign literature.

“In the Lehigh Valley, we canvassed areas that have never been canvassed before,” said Daniel Meehan, a member of the SEIU Local 668 in Bethlehem, Pa.

An estimated 27 million union members voted Tuesday.

Union members supported Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, according to a poll for the AFL-CIO conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates. About 65 percent of union workers voted for Mr. Kerry and 33 percent of union members voted for President Bush, said Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research.

Mr. Gore had the support of 63 percent of union members in 2000, Mr. Garin said.

AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman said the effort by the unions during this presidential election proved, in many ways, to be the most successful one.

“We certainly produced,” she said.

The failure of unions to get Mr. Kerry elected simply points to their dwindling numbers, said Douglas McCabe, professor of labor relations at the Georgetown University school of business. Just 9 percent of private-sector workers are union members, compared with 25 percent 20 years ago.

“Their declining economic and financial power is evidenced by the fact that Kerry lost, and they were unable to turn out the vote. It is a sociological impact. They just don’t have the impact they did in the 1940s, ‘50s or ‘60s,” Mr. McCabe said.

Randel Johnson, vice president of labor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said unions must refine their message that corporate America is bad for workers.

“I would have to guess the union movement is going to go through a serious re-examination of how they approach issues and what’s wrong with their message,” he said.

Mr. Sweeney said the key is enlisting more members.

Now, the unions face the prospect of four more years of cold relations with the White House.

Mr. Sweeney said the AFL-CIO is willing to work with the Bush administration while lobbying on behalf of working families.

If it meets resistance, he said, “We’ll fight [hard].”

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