- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

The Teamsters Union today will endorse Republican Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, sending another signal of the breakup of Democrats' political alliance with organized labor.

With the blessing of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, the endorsement is the latest and largest victory by Republican leaders who have been soliciting and winning the support of major labor unions whose money and manpower have long been at the core of the Democratic Party's political power.

The Teamsters' New York City local is organizing the endorsement event, but Mr. Hoffa plans to attend to give Mr. Pataki's campaign for a third term the full weight of his union's support.

"We don't do this all the time, but Jim Hoffa has developed a personal relationship with the governor and wanted to be part of this," said Mike Mathis, director of government affairs for the 1.4 million-member union.

Mr. Pataki has racked up a string of union endorsements in recent months, including from the building trade unions and the health care and building services workers. Even the New York AFL-CIO has held a fund-raising event for the governor, though it is unclear if the labor federation will endorse him until the Democrats have chosen their nominee.

"This is part of a continuing effort by a number of unions including the Teamsters to do what is best for their members, which is to work in a bipartisan basis with political leaders from both parties who share their values and interests," said Kenneth B. Mehlman, the White House political director.

"To me it shows how Pataki, but also President Bush, have been reaching out to labor, and that gives the Democrats a lot to worry about," said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, who is one of the founding members of the House Republicans' Working Group on Labor.

"I think this is a large step toward reconstituting the Reagan Democrats of the 1980s," Mr. King said.

While it has not received much news media attention, the Bush administration and Republicans around the country have been campaigning aggressively over the past year for union support. Union contributions to Republicans have shot up from 6 percent to nearly 20 percent. Labor union officials said yesterday they may consider at least a half-dozen more Republican gubernatorial endorsements.

Among them: Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, who is seeking a second term in Florida; Sen. Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska, who is running to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles; state Attorney General Jim Ryan, who is in a tight race in Illinois; and acting Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has succeeded Mr. Bush.

"We had some very good conversations with Governor Bush in Florida and his staff, but we're not sure how that will play out," Mr. Mathis said yesterday. The Teamsters already have endorsed Republican Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio and have given Mr. Perry money and support but not an official endorsement.

Mr. Pataki has been courting labor union leaders for the past year. He has enacted raises for hospital workers and signed an executive order that makes it easier for labor leaders to organize unions at work sites without holding elections when more than 50 percent of workers sign up for membership.

The White House, too, has been conducting a major drive to win union support for its agenda. More than a dozen unions have lobbied for its energy bill, terrorism insurance plan and worker pension reforms.

Mr. Bush also has sought to please the Teamsters through his appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which mediates business-labor disputes. "We're happy with the way the NLRB is shaping up. It looks like a fair board," Mr. Mathis said.


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