By Melanie Mason, Tribune Washington Bureau –
ORLANDO, Fla. — Leaders of the influential AFL-CIO labor federation announced Tuesday that the group voted “proudly and enthusiastically” to endorse President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.
“We feel that he’s put forth bold initiatives and put people back to work, put revenues back in the country, put out a vision that expresses opportunity and fairness,” said Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We think he’s a good man.”
The council spoke to Obama by telephone during its closed-door session, in which the president sounded “very engaged, very knowledgeable,” according to McEntee, who serves as chair of the AFL-CIO’s political education committee.
The vote, among the AFL-CIO’s 57 member executive council, was without objection; one union, the International Association of Fire Fighters abstained in order to wait for its own convention in July, at which IAFF President Harold Schaitberger said he would make “the strongest recommendation not only to endorse, but to make the commitment to put the resources out on the ground.”
Labor leaders had in the past been vocal about dissatisfaction with the Obama White House on a host of issues, from Obama’s compromise in extending the George W. Bush tax cuts to perceived shortcomings in the administration’s stimulus and health care reform packages.
But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he had been heartened the administration’s renewed push on jobs and combating inequality, a pivot that occurred around Labor Day last year.
“We will continue to have disagreements with him,” Trumka said. “But we’ve never doubted one thing. We’ve never doubted he’s a friend of working people and he’s the best out there.
Best for us, best for working people, best for the recovery of this country.”
Trumka acknowledged the unions “still have work to do” to motivate its members to support and advocate for Obama’s re-election.
“The level of enthusiasm with our leadership is great,” Trumka said. “They understand the importance about this election. … Our workers, maybe some of them are disappointed because some of the things we thought should be done weren’t done.”
But Trumka appeared to relish the prospect of a general election battle with GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has been espousing an anti-union message on the campaign trail.
“Mitt Romney doesn’t have a clue about what working people go through every day,” Trumka said. “Everything he does is with the 1 percent. Everything he’s done helps the 1 percent.”