Labor Copes With Kerry

With only a few months to go until the November election, organized labor is fine-tuning its voter mobilization efforts (search) in 16 states it thinks are crucial to the presidential race.

No detail is too small, like setting goals for door knocking and mailings and quotas for the number of staff and volunteers working against President Bush (search).

Labor leaders meeting here this week want to wring out every vote possible that could turn the election in favor of John Kerry (search). Six in 10 union households supported Democrat Al Gore over Bush in 2000, and union leaders are working hard to get Kerry elected depite the fact that all but two unions rebuffed him and endorsed other Democrats in the primaries.

"This is the very best mobilization program ever put together by the federation," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (search). "But there's still work to be done. That's obvious."

The AFL-CIO alone is spending $44 million to mobilize union households. AFSCME, with 1.5 million members, has budgeted $48 million, said McEntee, who has been assigned to oversee labor operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (search) has allocated $65 million to help elect Kerry.

Bush won Ohio in 2000, 51 percent to 47 percent. But if labor can boost its vote by 2 percentage points in Ohio, Bush has little chance of winning the state, McEntee said.

No Republican has been elected president without winning Ohio.

Labor, for the first time, is attempting to make such voter turnout gains with very specific goals -- unions must meet numbers set for staff, volunteers, house and work visits, doors knocked and leaflets handed out. Progress is monitored carefully.

SEIU's goals include 50,000 members to volunteer more than a million hours, making 7 million phone calls and knocking on 10 million doors, said Anna Burger, SEIU's secretary-treasurer. Six million fliers will be distributed at members' work sites. The union has tapped 2,004 members in so-called safe Democratic states, such as California, Connecticut and New York to work full-time in battleground states.

"People are working hard and they believe they are taking back their country," Burger said.

Bush meanwhile is taking a swipe at labor on Thursday with a visit to a union training center in Las Vegas. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters, which left the AFL-CIO in 2001, owns the facility and is friendly with the Bush administration, hosting several Labor Day events with the president.

The union also won crucial backing from the Labor Department (search) in a complaint that the union usurped power from its locals when it restructured. The union so far has remained neutral in the election, refusing to follow the rest of labor with a Kerry endorsement, and not officially backing Bush either.