- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The AFL-CIO labor federation said yesterday it would emphasize rising unemployment and the weak economy in its attempt to remove President Bush from office in the 2004 election.

“We’re going to organize a very effective campaign around economic issues,” federation President John Sweeney said at a breakfast in downtown Washington. “I think it’s crucial that the economic issues be a major part of the presidential campaign.”

However, the AFL-CIO will wait until at least August to endorse one of the nine Democrats who have announced their presidential candidacies, he said during a press briefing at a downtown hotel.

Union political organizing played an important role in the 2000 presidential election, delivering votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore that made the election the closest in U.S. history.

Mr. Sweeney said labor would appeal more in the next election to nonunion voters who share union interests in job protection and health care. He also said the federation would strike stronger alliances with civil rights and women’s groups.

“The first priority is jobs,” Mr. Sweeney said. Among the industries he said needed support was manufacturing, which has been hit hard by layoffs.

The National Association of Manufacturers reports a loss of 2.3 million manufacturing jobs in the last 33 months.

Nationwide, unemployment reached 6 percent in April, up from 5.8 percent a month earlier, according to the Labor Department. The jobless rate is the highest since 1994, when it reached 6.1 percent.

Although the federation’s executive council must approve any official endorsements, Mr. Sweeney said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and 2000 vice-presidential candidate, traditionally has supported issues important to unions.

“He has a pretty good voting record,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is also a contender for union favor, Mr. Sweeney said.

Mr. Sweeney said the president’s policies appeal primarily to the wealthy, including Mr. Bush’s education and tax-cut proposals.

Regarding education policy, Mr. Sweeney said, “While he’s saying ‘no child left behind,’ it’s more like no CEO left behind.”

The House passed a $550 billion tax cut last week, which Mr. Bush is now pushing in the Senate.

The Bush administration says the tax bill would create 1 million new jobs. Democrats say it uses gimmicks such as letting popular tax breaks expire to hide its true costs.

It would reduce the top rate on dividends and appreciated assets, accelerate income-tax rate reductions scheduled for future years, give businesses incentives to buy equipment now, and make it easier for companies suffering losses to get tax refunds.

“The average person across the country is not benefiting from this tax cut,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Bush administration officials denied they were insensitive to concerns of working-class Americans.

“The president is grateful for the strong support he has from rank-and-file workers and families across the United States,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

He also disagreed with Mr. Sweeney’s assertion the president’s tax-cut proposal favors the wealthy.

“The bottom line is that Americans with lower to moderate incomes will receive the largest percentage tax cut,” Mr. McClellan said.

AFL-CIO leaders said unions would rally in other political races, but the presidency is the main target.

“We’ll be engaged in House races, we’ll be engaged in Senate races,” political director Karen Ackerman said. “We have a focus on changing the leadership in the White House.”

On Saturday, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees plans to start its endorsement process with a town-hall meeting that includes all nine Democratic candidates for president. During the meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, the candidates will answer questions from union members.

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