Labor leaders to focus on 2012 election

ORLANDO, Fla. - As might be expected in a presidential election year, politics will take center stage when the AFL-CIO Executive Council meets Mar. 13-15 in Orlando, Fla.

With the Auto Workers becoming the latest AFL-CIO union to endorse President Obama for re-election, the entire council will likely make the labor federation's endorsement formal. It may not be unanimous, however:

Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger has already said his union will hold off on any endorsement until its own convention, this fall in Canada. In monthly polls of its own members, IAM says it has found dissatisfaction with the Obama administration.

The distance between IAM and the White House is mutual. Buffenbarger is one union leader routinely left out of presidential meetings, and his union backed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries - something Obama campaign officials may remember.

The National Nurses Union may also cast a skeptical eye. Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro has said in the past her union will not support any politician, from Obama on down, who proposed cuts in Medicare, Social Security, or both.

Obama floated both ideas during deficit-cutting talks last year with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The talks broke down over the GOP's adamant stand for permanently preserving former GOP President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich.

Besides the national political endorsement, the union leaders will also discuss the AFL-CIO's new political strategy, which federation President Richard Trumka insists will be year-round.

That strategy calls for pressuring politicians to take specific pro-worker stands during campaigns and back them up with action after the election. Labor would call out those who defect instead, and either walk away from them, or find and fund foes.

Unions did so in 2010, backing Arkansas' lieutenant governor in a Democratic primary against then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Despite the state's low union density (four percent that year), they almost defeated her. She then lost the general election to the GOP.

Labor's new accountability strategy may get put to the test again in an upcoming Pennsylvania congressional primary. GOP redistricting there threw Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into the same western Pennsylvania district.

Local unions have already made clear their displeasure with some of Altmire's stands, notably his opposition to Obama's health care law. Many back Critz.

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