AFL-CIO Vents its Anger at Bush
Meeting Spurs Efforts to Defeat Him in '04
By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Business Writer
Friday 28 February 2003
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Any faint hopes that President George W. Bush may have harbored for healing the rift between himself and organized labor cannot have survived this week's meetings of the AFL-CIO executive council.
In blunt, angry statements, the nation's union leaders made clear that defeating Bush and policies the unions consider anti-workerhave become their top priorities for 2004.
"What you have heard here is a reaction that is throughout the labor movement that there's an anti-worker administration in office and we have to do something to change that," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said after the meetings at the Westin Diplomat Resort ended Thursday. "Everything's geared to 2004."
Even International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James Hoffa, who supported Bush on energy policy and other issues, criticized the president and his policies this week.
"The union is extremely disappointed with many of the decisions the administration has made in recent months," Hoffa spokesman Bret Caldwell said Thursday. "We're continuing to have open discussions with the White House. It's just that they're not listening to us as much as they once were.
"Since the mid-term elections, the administration seems more aggressively antilabor. Whether they've just determined they don't need labor, I don't know."
Among other things, union leaders are unhappy about Bush stripping federal airport security workers of union protections and questioning the patriotism of union leaders who objected, proposing that companies be allowed to grant comp time instead of paying for overtime and imposing stringent financial disclosure requirements on unions.
In a gesture union leaders found particularly irritating, Bush's labor secretary, Elaine Chao, addressed the executive council in Hollywood, Fla., and spent part of her 30-minute address recalling recent cases of union corruption and investigations of labor officials.
Sweeney deemed Chao's remarks insulting.
A spokeswoman said Thursday that the secretary's remarks had been mischaracterized and that Chao had been nothing but respectful to AFL-CIO leaders.
Union leaders are incensed about a Bush proposal that would require unions, in their annual reports to the government, to account for all spending of $2,000 or more, including purchases of routine supplies in small quantities that would add up to that amount over a year. The proposal could take effect later this year.
Chao told leaders the aim is to create more transparency so union members will know where their money is going. Her spokeswoman also said the labor department will give unions software and training to help them track their spending.
But union leaderssay the proposal is political punishment designed to bury union staffers in paperwork.
"I think they're doing it mainly because they know how incredibly onerous and burdensome it's going to be," said John Hiatt, the AFL-CIO's general counsel.
On Thursday, the AFL-CIO leaders also put distance between themselves and Bush over the potential Iraq war. Their last action before adjourning Thursday was to pass a stronger-than-expected motion calling for more time and diplomatic efforts before going to war.
While agreeing that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein needs to be removed, the motion said Bush has squandered America's diplomatic goodwill with its traditional allies.
"We support the troops," said Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers of America and head of the AFL-CIO's international affairs committee. But he added, "We believe that an attack now is premature. You have to give diplomacy a greater chance to work."
One step the AFL-CIO agreed to take is to pump at least $20 million into a new political operation called the Partnership for American Families, to mobilize nonunion voters in an effort to defeat Bush in 2004.
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