- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

LAS VEGAS The AFL-CIO yesterday announced a campaign to give greater support to pro-union political candidates, similar to the effort that helped make the last presidential election the closest in American history.
The labor federation hopes more political power will translate into more members at a time union membership ranks at its lowest level in decades.
"We will double the number of union members in elected positions," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said at a press conference yesterday as he announced the "Target 5000" campaign.
Target 5000 is intended to build on the AFL-CIO's "2000 in 2000" campaign, in which the labor group claims to have surpassed its goal of electing 2000 union members in 2000 and instead won election for about 2,500 union members to state and federal posts.
A major part of the new effort is creation of a political action committee dedicated to supporting pro-union candidates. Organized labor claimed a big role in nearly electing Democrat Al Gore as president in 2000. Most of the pro-union wins were in state elections.
"At the state level, we're doing well," said Gerald McEntee, chairman of the AFL-CIO's political committee. "But we have work to do, and admit it, in Congress."
Among union households in Virginia, 73 percent of adults voted in 2000, according to the AFL-CIO. Among Virginia's nonunion households, only 66 percent voted.
The national labor federation hopes it can use any new political clout it wins to persuade more workers to join unions and more unions to affiliate with the AFL-CIO.
Mr. Sweeney said organizing is the top priority of the AFL-CIO, whose membership dropped to 13.5 percent of the U.S. labor force last year. A recent victory occurred in 2000, when the United American Nurses became one of the AFL-CIO's 66 affiliated unions.
"They have a lot of lobbying capabilities," said Debra Thomas, a Howard University Hospital nurse who also is a delegate to the AFL-CIO's annual convention this week in Las Vegas.
The AFL-CIO is helping United American Nurses lobby political leaders against forced overtime for nurses, supporting a patients' bill of rights and representing them in trying to win broader health insurance benefits.
In addition to gaining political power, the AFL-CIO approved a resolution this week that would put a significant amount of new resources into union organizing. The labor group is asking member unions to dedicate 30 percent of their annual budgets to organizing.
The leadership also is considering raising dues by 5 cents per member, per month for each affiliated union. In addition, AFL-CIO might reduce its operations budget by cutting staff, and divert more union royalties from its credit card program to organizing efforts.
The federation has, in the past, come under attack by pro-business groups over the use of union dues for political purposes. The dues are compulsory and most often are directed toward electing pro-labor Democrats, even though some union members are Republicans.
Richard Davis, international vice president of the United Steelworkers of America, said even if dues rise, AFL-CIO affiliation is still worthwhile "because of the things we're able to do jointly that no union could do by itself."
Despite leaders' optimism at the convention, the AFL-CIO has been forced to confront dissent among affiliated unions in recent years.
In the most stunning example, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, along with its 300,000 members, withdrew last spring from the AFL-CIO after accusing the leadership of neglecting organizing.
"I think it was a terrible mistake," said Alan Lubin, a convention delegate from the American Federation of Teachers. "It wasn't good for carpenters. It wasn't good for workers."

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