On Labor Day, the starting point for the mad rush to this winter’s Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries, several of the Democratic contenders could point to support they have received from the unions and union members that will be critical to securing the party’s nomination to challenge George W. Bush. By any measure, however, former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt owns the bragging rights. With the endorsement he received August 20 from the 300,000-member Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers (PACE) International Union, Gephardt now claims the support of a dozen major unions.
Gephardt is backed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the United Steelworkers of America; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees; the American Maritime Officers; the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees; the Office and Professional Employees International Union; and the Seafarer`s International Union. That’s an impressive list, drawn from unions with long histories of friendly relations with Gephardt, the son of a St. Louis Teamster who during the presidencies of George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush positioned himself as labor’s best ally in Washington. “We know Gephardt,” said PACE President Boyd Young, when he announced his union’s endorsement. The ties between Gephardt and many labor leaders run deep, and they often run strong – having been forged in difficult struggles to block Congressional approval of trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the 650,000-member steelworkers union endorsed Gephardt, it’s president, Leo Gerard, described the Missouri congressman as someone who “shares our deeply-held conviction that America’s trade policies are the cause of more than two million manufacturing jobs having been lost in recent years, and he has never failed to make the case, no matter the odds of victory.”
That’s high praise, indeed. But Gephardt will need more than kind words and the endorsements of a dozen unions to become “labor’s candidate” in 2004. To secure the support of the AFL-CIO, which provided early and essential backing to Al Gore in his race against Bill Bradley for the Democratic nomination in 2000, Gephardt needs the backing of unions representing two-thirds of the labor federation’s 13 million members. He does not have it now, and he’s unlikely to gain it by October, when a meeting of the AFL-CIO’s board, on which the president’s of the 65 unions that make up the federation sit, could make the designation.