WASHINGTON – President Bush met with Teamsters union officials Thursday to call for a national energy policy which he says is a matter of national security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The roundtable also included members of the Seafarers, Carpenters, and AFL-CIO building trades unions.
Bush enlisted the 1.4 million-member Teamsters union in the effort to drill for oil in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge, arguing that it would create hundreds of thousands of union jobs. Last year, Teamsters president James Hoffa helped win House passage of an energy policy calling for drilling in ANWR.
Bush, who wants the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass the measure, put pressure on lawmakers Thursday by saying "the energy bill is a jobs bill."
"When we explore for power, U.S. power, U.S. energy in ANWR, we're not only helping us become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil and foreign sources of energy, we're creating jobs for American workers, jobs so that men and women can put food on the table," he said. "All of us know that the energy bill that's now stuck in the Senate, that can't get voted on in the Senate, will be good for America, be good for our foreign policy, be good for our national security, and more importantly, be good for jobs."
Opponents of drilling in ANWR say it would threaten one of the nation's last areas of pristine wilderness and not produce enough oil to warrant the effort. Some economists say that the prediction that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created is too rosy.
And not all labor unions are on board with the drilling plan.
"Our nation's energy policy should help America's working families instead of just providing benefits for big oil companies. Working families need a national energy policy that increases the affordability and stability of our energy supply while also reducing air pollution. We believe that drilling in the Arctic Refuge fails this test," said Andrew Stern, international president of the Service Employees International Union.
By courting the Teamsters, Bush is also putting pressure on the traditional alliance between Democrats and organized labor. The Teamsters backed Al Gore in the 2000 election, but after Gore lost Hoffa said the union needed to change course. Bush would welcome the union's endorsement in his re-election bid in 2004.
Hoffa, meanwhile, is hoping that Bush may end the 12-year federal oversight of the Teamsters, the result of a Justice Department investigation during the first Bush administration.