- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The nation’s largest coal miners union has yet to make an endorsement for the upcoming presidential election after giving President Obama its full and early support four years ago — hinting it may sit out the race.

But despite the United Mine Workers of America’s indecision, organized labor is throwing its support to Mr. Obama much as it did in 2008 when the then-Democratic senator from Illinois won the presidency.

The UMWA says it will make an endorsement — or not — based on recommendations of its state councils, most of which will hold meetings in the next few weeks. The process likely will conclude by mid-September, said UMWA Communications Director Phil Smith.

The UMWA has a history of backing Democratic presidential candidates, but “it’s certainly an option that there could be no endorsement” this year, the spokesman said.

In contrast, the nation’s largest teachers union — the National Education Association — couldn’t wait to back President Obama’s re-election bid, overwhelmingly endorsing the Democrat more than 13 months ago. The union has applauded Mr. Obama for making “critical investments” to the nation through the 2009 economic stimulus package, his health care reform law a year later and his support of legislation to spend millions of dollars to avert teacher layoffs.

The president, in a nod to receiving such enthusiastic support, addressed the NEA’s annual summer gathering in early July via teleconference, saying he was running for a second term “to make sure every American has a chance to get a great education.”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, in response to Mr. Obama’s comments, said the union “believe(s) in you and we are behind you all the way.”

Several other major unions endorsed the president’s re-election bid last year — well before Mr. Romney emerged as the presumptive GOP nominee. The list includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The president also predictably received official backing from the AFL-CIO — the nation’s largest labor federation — as well as the Teamsters, the United Steelworkers, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the National Association of Police Organizations, among others.

Despite the UMWA’s cautious endorsement approach, it’s unlikely the union will back Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

“I’m not seeing any great groundswell of support for either candidate,” Mr. Smith said. “At the same time, we are a union, and Mr. Romney and especially now [his running mate Paul] Ryan are not exactly known as friends of unions.”

The miners union is upset over Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at the coal industry, particularly the administration’s support for tougher emissions standards for coal-fueled utility plants. Such policies mean fewer coal-run plants — and jobs — in the future, the union says.

“Our members aren’t stupid … they see what this means,” Mr. Smith said.

Another issue that Mr. Obama has clashed with some unions over is the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Backers of the project said it would create thousands of jobs.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), which supports the project, blasted the Obama administration for its decision in January to deny an application by Canadian firm TransCanada to build the controversial pipeline, calling it “politics at its worst.”

Yet less than two months later, the union’s board unanimously endorsed the president’s re-election bid.

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, which supports Keystone, also endorsed Mr. Obama.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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