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Union leaders warn Keystone rejection would hurt Democrats in November

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FILE: Undated: The Keystone Oil Pipeline under construction in North Dakota in this undated photograph released on the Obama administration on January 18, 2012. (REUTERS)

Leaders of the nation's building trades unions renewed their demands Tuesday that President Obama approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, suggesting that there could be consequences for Democrats in the midterm elections if the project is rejected.

Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, and Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, told a press conference in Washington that the project would create much-needed jobs.

“I urge the president of the United States to get on with it and approve that permit” to build the pipeline," said McGarvey, who heads an alliance of 14 unions representing workers in the U.S. and Canada, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“I think the White House needs to worry about November,” McGarvey said when asked what he and other building trades union officials would do if the White House doesn't approve the pipeline soon, according to the report.

O’Sullivan said his members view Keystone as a lifeline for good jobs and a partial fix to the high unemployment rate for construction workers, which stood at 12.8 percent last month. He said his members will head to the polls with that in mind in November if the administration doesn't act soon.

“If they block good jobs,” union members “will be against them,” O’Sullivan, said, citing a recent Washington Post-ABC poll showing that two-thirds of Americans support the idea of constructing the pipeline, The Journal reported.

The proposed 1,179-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas would create jobs and reduce the need to import oil from politically volatile countries, say supporters, who include lawmakers from both major political parties and business groups.

Obama has said he expects to make a decision on Keystone XL in the coming weeks. Secretary of State John Kerry must first make a recommendation on whether the project serves the national interest; Department of State approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border.

The long-delayed project cleared a major hurdle in January, when a Department of State report found no major environmental objection.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people who are in Washington for this year's Legislative Conference of North America's Building Trades Unions will descend on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to support the pipeline, the Journal reported. 

When asked whether the Building Trades would be stage pro-Keystone demonstrations, McGarvey said, "we don't have any plans. We are looking at this year's elections. Our members are pretty smart. When they see politicians standing in the way of job opportunities, they will react accordingly."

O’Sullivan, who has criticized the Obama administration over regulations that affect some union-sponsored health plans under the health care law, linked the Keystone delay to a broader rift between the administration and the labor movement, The Hill reported.

"Our anger doesn't just stop with Keystone XL," O'Sullivan, told the publication."We are extremely angry about the Affordable Care Act and the fact that there is 12.8 percent unemployment in construction."

"Are [lawmakers] really for jobs and the middle class?" he asked. "This whole thing reeks of politics."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from The Wall Street Journal.

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