Unions step 2010 election pressure

Unions are shifting their election-year political programs into the next gear.

The AFL-CIO on Monday began distributing more than 300,000 political fliers to members at 164 worksites in 23 states. The two-week program by the labor group signals that unions plan to be fully engaged in the midterm elections.

“People aren’t interested in campaign slogans or promises; they want results,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “If politicians are fighting for working families, then we will work our hearts out for them. If they aren’t delivering and think they can take our support for granted, then they may be awfully lonely come November.”

The campaign will be countrywide, operating in states like Iowa and Indiana in the Midwest; New York and Pennsylvania out east; and California and Washington on the West Coast. The focus of the initiative is to spark one-on-one conversations among union members about labor-backed candidates.

The vast majority of federal candidates receiving labor support this year will be Democrats. While unions have expressed frequent disappointment with the party in power and have backed some primary challenges of Democratic incumbents, labor has been much more at odds with Republicans. Unions blame the GOP for blocking or voting against key items on their legislative agenda, including last year’s economic stimulus package and the healthcare reform bill.

“From a union perspective, we have to make the case with our members that although the expectations may have not been met with the Obama administration or with the majorities in Congress, the alternative will be much worse,” said Larry Scanlon, national political director for AFSCME, the public-employee union. He said Republican candidates want to privatize or eliminate public-sector jobs as well as change pension plans.

“We have to make sure we consolidate the union vote,” Scanlon said.

That said, some GOP candidates will receive union support.

For example, Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, according to a union official. Both are co-sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act, labor-backed legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize unions. Business groups have fiercely lobbied against the bill, which is stuck in the Senate.

Other Republicans, such as Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), can expect the labor federation not to weigh in on their races with an endorsement for either side. That indicates that the AFL-CIO is relatively favorable toward the Republican incumbent, according to the same official.