The labor movement is intensifying its effort to unseat President Bush after he angered them with his pro-business policies on collective bargaining, foreign trade and overtime pay.
“President Bush promised 5 million new jobs and he’s 6 million jobs behind on that promise,” John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO national labor federation, said yesterday during a pre-Labor Day press conference. “He will be the first president since Hoover and the Great Depression to end his term with more people out of work than when he began.”
Unions also are upset with Bush administration policies that fail to extend health care to all workers and their families and that allow some federal government jobs to be outsourced to private contractors.
Mr. Bush defended his policies last night during a speech at the Republican National Convention when he said, “I am running with a compassionate conservative philosophy: that government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives.”
Democrats criticized the speech hours before Mr. Bush delivered it.
“He will claim that this is the best economy of our lifetimes, and that he is on the side of middle-class families, he will lay out his tired, old policy proposals and claim that they compose a new agenda,” said Phil Singer, spokesman for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mr. Bush’s Democratic opponent. “But these are old ideas, bad ideas and failed ideas. Bush has a record of proposing policies that hurt America’s middle class while benefiting Bush’s special interest friends and the wealthiest few.”
The AFL-CIO’s “get out the vote” campaign included door-to-door visits to a million union households yesterday asking their support for Mr. Kerry and other pro-labor candidates.
About 15,600 union volunteers in 16 battleground states made the house calls as part of the AFL-CIO’s $45 million political organizing campaign for the 2004 election.
In the 2000 election, union households voted at about twice the rate of most registered voters, helping to produce the closest presidential election in American history.
Mr. Sweeney said even more issues important to the labor movement are at stake in the 2004 election. They include a bill that would make it easier to organize unions, new overtime-pay rules that eliminate guarantees of time-and-a-half pay for some middle-income hourly workers and outsourcing of jobs to foreign competitors.
Business groups accuse the AFL-CIO of rehashing unrealistic complaints.
“There’s nothing new on that list,” Pat Cleary, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said about the AFL-CIO’s grievances toward the Bush administration.
“We’ve added a couple of hundred thousand manufacturing jobs in the last couple of months,” Mr. Cleary said. “There’s a lot to be happy about this Labor Day.”
Trade agreements that allow more international commerce and a Bush administration tax cut that creates incentives for business investment are part of the reason for the improving economy, he said.
Loss of jobs to foreign competition are just part of the normal “ebb and flow” of the job market, he said.
A key issue with the AFL-CIO is the Employee Free Choice Act, which Mr. Sweeney said could be a test of whether a candidate wins union support.
Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, if a majority of employees at a workplace check a line on a card indicating they want to unionize and sign it, the proposed law would require the employer to allow collective bargaining.
Current law requires an election among the workers that unions say can subject them to intimidation and reprisal by their employers.
Like other pro-labor policies, the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as “card check” legislation, is opposed by business groups that say it would cost them money and undermine their control over workplaces.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a ruling to allow workers to vote out any union organized through card checks.
“We oppose card checks because they are against the principle of employee freedom,” said Justin Hakes, spokesman for the foundation.
“Many times in these card-checks drives, workers have to decide whether to vote for a union while they’re surrounded by union organizers.”
Mr. Kerry has endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act.