- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2000

NEW ORLEANS Vice President Al Gore told the AFL-CIO Thursday that he will stand by President Clinton's trade policy toward China, but will fight for tougher standards of worker and environmental rights if he wins the presidential election, Gore campaign officials said.
"Al Gore supports China's ascension into the WTO," said Gore campaign spokesman Chris Lehane.
"But as president, in terms of future trade agreements, he would have labor, environmental and human rights provisions as part of those agreements," Mr. Lehane said.
Labor leaders, meeting here this week to plot political and organizing strategy, said they will not hold that stance against him and will push ahead with their nationwide effort to help Mr. Gore win the presidency.
Toughening labor and environmental standards in trade deals likely would be met coolly by other countries.
During the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle late last year, Mr. Clinton proposed including such standards backed by sanctions in the round of trade talks the WTO is hoping to start. Those remarks helped lead to the collapse of the talks without any agreement.
Third World countries, which have policies of child labor and low wages, are unalterably opposed to such proposals and view them as a new form of protectionism by the United States, participants at the WTO meeting said.
Though the labor movement has been Mr. Clinton's staunchest ally, the nation's major unions have fought his trade policies since his presidency began in 1993.
The labor federation's executive council this week announced a massive campaign to torpedo the Clinton administration's effort to persuade Congress to give China permanent normal-trade relations with the United States.
Permanent trading status is essential to China's bid to join the WTO. Unions believe China should not be allowed to join the global trade body until it improves its record on human rights and improves working conditions.
The head of the World Trade Organization, Mike Moore, said in Singapore Monday that he wanted China to become a full member of the organization by the end of the year.
Mr. Gore's commitment to support the president in his fight for improved trade with China has put him in a delicate position with the AFL-CIO, a federation of 68 major unions that endorsed his presidential bid in October.
But even as the AFL-CIO has vowed to fight the administration over China, the umbrella organization still intends to support Mr. Gore for his stands on other issues like preserving Social Security and Medicare and improving education.
And they accept Mr. Gore's promises that he will do a better job protecting worker and environmental rights if he becomes president.
"The vice president has committed himself to being stronger on core labor standards in future trade agreements when he is president," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Thursday.
While Mr. Gore has sealed endorsements from the federation and most of the major unions, two of the federation's largest unions still have not decided whether to endorse his candidacy.
Mr. Gore met separately with leaders of the Teamsters union and United Auto Workers, hoping to convince them that he is committed to more worker-friendly trade deals as well as improving U.S. labor laws, which unions complain don't do enough to protect workers.
A top Teamsters official said the 1.4 million-member truckers union would wait to decide on an endorsement until after the March 7 Super Tuesday primaries. But he said he believed that Mr. Gore would do more for labor than Mr. Clinton has during his presidency.
"I think Gore would come into office with a better understanding of organized labor than Clinton had when he came into office," said Mike Mathis, director of government affairs for the Teamsters, adding that Teamsters President James P. Hoffa was unable to meet with Mr. Gore due to a scheduling conflict.
Other labor leaders agreed that Mr. Gore would be a better president when it comes to labor issues, but they would hold him to his word if he wins the White House.
"Every union here is adamantly opposed to permanent [normal trading relations] status for China and is going to work very hard to see that this is defeated," said George Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of America.
"And we are going to give the Gore administration an opportunity to deal with it," Mr. Becker added.
AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal said the federation already has mobilized members in several of the 11 states that are scheduled to hold primaries on March 7.
"We have union members on the ground in California, New York, Ohio, Maryland, several of the states," Mr. Rosenthal said. "We have a mail and phone program already up and running."
Mr. Gore, hoping to demonstrate his appreciation for the federation's help so far in the campaign, earlier Thursday drove out to Litton Avondale Industries' shipyard to greet workers as they finished the overnight shift.
Mr. Lehane said labor's support has been "critical" to the success of Mr. Gore's presidential campaign, which appeared to gather steam in the fall after the AFL-CIO endorsement.
"Working folks who do the heavy lifting for America every day gave Gore a big lift back in the fall. In a sense it was almost like the first primary," Mr. Lehane said.
Joined by Mr. Sweeney, the vice president spent about half an hour shaking hands with scores of electricians and steelworkers who, with the help of the AFL-CIO, recently voted to organize into a union after six-year fight.
The shipyard company, called Avondale until it was bought last year by Litton Industries, was fined more than $3 million for numerous safety violations and unfair labor practices citations.
Scores of shipyard workers came out to meet the vice president and show support.
"He's my man, that's what's up," said John Sillmon, a shipyard electrician. "I like a lot of the things he stands for, like the things he's trying to do helping the old people with the medicine."
After meeting with labor leaders, the vice president flew to Jackson, Miss., for a rally.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide