Election 2012
3:00 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Obama Wins Backing Of AFL-CIO

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 7:17 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama has received a high-profile endorsement for his re-election bid. Though it's no surprise the country's largest federation of unions, the AFL-CIO, has traditionally endorsed a Democrat for president.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The strength of that support bears watching this year. Collective bargaining has been under attack in several states, draining union resources.

MONTAGNE: But labor leaders say it's also made them more determined than ever to keep Mr. Obama in the White House. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Organized labor hasn't always seen eye to eye with President Obama. His push for free trade agreements worries many unions, and he failed to deliver on a bill that would have made it easier to organize new workplaces. Still, Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker says when the AFL-CIO reexamined the economic stimulus, the health care law and the rescue of the auto industry, there was no choice but to endorse the president.

ARLENE HOLT BAKER: He understands our issues, and we know that there is a place at the table for working people with President Obama, whereas there's no doubt in our minds that there would not be a place at that table with a Republican administration.

HORSLEY: Indeed, Republican Mitt Romney has been openly hostile to organized labor. Romney regularly rails against what he calls union stooges.

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MITT ROMNEY: The union bosses too often demand things that are not right for America. This president has stacked the National Labor Relations Board with his labor friends to make sure that their decisions tilt the playing field towards union bosses.

HORSLEY: That kind of Republican rhetoric has turned unions' sometimes uneasy embrace of Mr. Obama into a solid bear hug. Here's Mario Ciardelli of Electrician's Local 683 in Columbus, Ohio.

MARIO CIARDELLI: I think our members realize that the other side's not an option.

HORSLEY: I first met Ciardelli last September when he came to see the president in Columbus. I asked him at the time how enthusiastic his members were about working for Mr. Obama's reelection.

CIARDELLI: That's a good question. I know that a lot of them are frustrated because of being out of work, you know.

HORSLEY: But since then, Ciardelli says, his members have rallied to the president's cause. The economy has gotten a bit better, and in November, Ohio voters overturned a law that would have severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees. That political campaign helped to energize union members. Holt Baker of the AFL-CIO says the same thing happened in Wisconsin, where the Republican governor, who pushed a similar measure, now faces a possible recall election.

BAKER: You don't get a million signatories for a recall if you don't have energy out there. And they have lit a fire under the American people, and particularly our members and our broader community partners.

HORSLEY: To be sure, unions have taken a beating in the tough economy. The union representing state and government workers lost 50,000 members as a result of widespread layoffs. But the union has already managed to spend one-and-a-half-million dollars on political ads targeting Republican presidential hopefuls, and Secretary Treasurer Lee Saunders says his members as are mobilized for the November race as they've been in a long, long time.

LEE SAUNDERS: We'll be knocking on doors, not only of union members, but our neighbors and our friends in our communities where we live. We're going to be making phone calls across the country. We're going to be putting resources into this fight.

HORSLEY: The Service Employees Union, which broke from the AFL-CIO, has also endorsed Mr. Obama. Many of that union's 2.1 million members are Latino, and they're putting a special focus on signing up voters in the swing states of Colorado, Nevada and Florida. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.