- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney complained yesterday that Democratic candidates take union support for granted, saying some unions will withhold support for Democrats during elections this year.

“I think we have to … hold Democrats accountable,” he said. “You just can’t assume that the labor movement is going to [support] Democratic candidates unless they are committed to solve the problems that are so important to workers. I do believe that there will be some Republican candidates who will be endorsed and supported by some of our unions.”

Unions also must add more members to bolster political clout and work harder to mobilize workers during the upcoming election season, Mr. Sweeney said at the National Press Club.

Union leaders agreed with Mr. Sweeney’s assessment and supported the notion that not all Democrats deserve labor’s endorsement.

“I think sometimes on particular issues there can be a tendency to take labor for granted. You do see that happening. It’s so obvious on the trade issue,” said American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee, who also is chairman of the AFL-CIO’s political action committee.

Some unions plan to withhold support from or to support opponents of the 15 Democrats who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which lowered trade barriers among the United States, five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. Unions haven’t named any Republicans they plan to support.

The House approved CAFTA by two votes in July, and President Bush signed the bill in August.

Rep. Melissa Bean, Illinois Democrat, is one of labor’s targets. Labor opposed CAFTA over concern that lowering trade barriers would encourage outsourcing of American jobs by making it less expensive to ship goods back into the United States from countries that signed onto the trade bill.

“A number of unions have talked about targeting Melissa Bean for her alienation of the labor movement at a key time on a key vote,” said Jeffrey Zack, spokesman for the International Association of Firefighters.

Despite issuing a warning to Democrats and saying unions will support moderate Republicans, Mr. Sweeney lashed out the Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration for supporting policies harmful to middle-class Americans. Mr. Sweeney yesterday lamented the flight of good jobs overseas and said American workers continue to fall behind as corporations shed pension plans and the cost of living rises.

“What are we going to do about the destruction of good jobs in our country — the jobs that for the past half-century helped us create the largest middle class, the most dynamic economy and the strongest democracy in the history of the world?” Mr. Sweeney asked.

A “corporate-driven strategy” to outsource jobs is self-destructive because it leaves businesses with too many consumers with too little money to spend, Mr. Sweeney said, and it harms government by creating a bigger pool of people who rely more on public services.

The president likely will paint a favorable picture of the economy in his State of the Union address this month, Mr. Sweeney predicted, adding that working families are still struggling.

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