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CNN Today

Will Labor Unions Make the Difference for Al Gore?

Aired September 4, 2000 - 2:35 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Sixteen million Americans are on union rolls this Labor Day. And union leaders say these voters will make the difference in this year's presidential contest.

Here's CNN's Jennifer Auther in Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER AUTHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Organized labor has been no stranger to politics, but its role in political elections has come a long way since the 1930s when Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt gave momentum to the rise and birth of industrial unionism in the United States.

Now unions are out front and demanding accountability before granting endorsement, money, and get-out-the-vote drives. Miguel Contreras is executive secretary treasurer of the 800,000 member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, the country's second largest labor council.

MIGUEL CONTRERAS, LOS ANGELES COUNTY AFL-CIO: The labor movement shouldn't be an ATM for political parties, nor should it be a piggy bank for any individual political candidates. We ought to spending our union's dues and resources on educating the members of why it's important for their families to come out and vote in this election cycle.

AUTHER: Many rank-and-file the AFL-CIO's 68 unions, which include teachers, autoworkers, firefighters and screenwriters, credit John Sweeney for reemphasizing the political muscle of its 16.5 million members.

JOHN SWEENEY, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: These workers and their families know that eight years of Clinton-Gore haven't been enough to repair the damage caused by 12 years of Reagan and Bush.

AUTHER: If anything, the unions are partisan. Pounding the pavement for Democrats has become tradition and soft-money spending in television air wars is already under way. The AFL-CIO has 70 field representatives targeting 71 House districts this fall. It's running TV spots in six key congressional races, which could help the Democrats win a majority in the House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AFL-CIO AD) NARRATOR: Congressman Steven Kuykendall voted no to a real patients' bill of rights. Call Kuykendall and tell him he's on the wrong side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AUTHER: Despite Al Gore's support of permanent trade relations with China, the AFL-CIO endorsed Gore last October. Union leaders say the free trade relations would cost U.S. jobs.

(on camera): Some political analysts say that the AFL-CIO's early endorsement of the vice president even after Gore supported the China trade bill worked to help Gore keep much of his base together right up through the Democratic National Convention here in Los Angeles.

(voice-over): GOP political strategy Arnold Steinberg agrees, that helped Gore in the primaries, but...

ARNOLD STEINBERG, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think in some respects, Al Gore is living in the past by using the jargon: working families, working people, as if to suggest that unless you're in a labor union, you're not working very, very hard. What a George Bush has got to do is what Ronald Reagan did. He's simply got to appeal to these people in a way that transcends union membership.

AUTHER: After a major policy shift to embrace immigrant workers, the AFL-CIO says the number of people paying unions due nationwide has increased by 265,000 last year alone.

Jennifer Auther, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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