BAL HARBOUR, FLA., FEB. 18 -- Organized labor today announced an all-out lobbying campaign to prevent companies from giving permanent jobs to strikebreakers, setting the stage for a legislative showdown with business interests and the Bush administration later this year.

The 14-million-member AFL-CIO, whose representatives are conducting their annual winter meeting here, so far has signed up 191 co-sponsors in the House and 27 in the Senate on legislation that would prohibit any employer from offering someone a permanent job to replace an employee engaged in a lawful strike.

Employers would not be barred from hiring temporary workers to keep their operations going during a strike.

"It's a burning issue with us," said AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland in announcing the grass-roots lobbying effort to force a vote on the issue in this session of Congress. "We regard it with great urgency. This will be a central issue with us."

Labor already has won the support of the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate and hopes to begin picking up additional sponsors with a massive letter writing campaign and the creation of committees in every state to pressure members of Congress in their home districts.

"This has been an issue that's been festering out there for the last three years," said Pete Lunnie, a top lobbyist on labor issues for the National Association of Manufacturers. "They're {labor} going to make this big time. They're putting everything on the line."

Lunnie predicted the labor campaign would trigger a massive rally by the business community against the worker replacement legislation, which he called "a gut check issue" for both sides.

Lunnie said business was particularly concerned that a victory on this issue could whet organized labor's appetite for aggressive campaigns on other union issues.

Kirkland admitted that the use of permanent replacements was "still the practice of the fringe," but said its recent use by a number of high-profile businesses had become "a direct threat to the vitality of the collective bargaining system."

A recent report by the General Accounting Office estimated that approximately 15 percent of the nation's unionized employers have used the tactic.

Those employers who have used permanent replacements in recent years have left a bitter taste in labor's mouth.

Since the late 1980s, unions have suffered crushing defeats at the hands of the International Paper Co., Eastern Air Lines Inc. and Greyhound Lines Inc. through the use of permanent replacement workers.

And unions appear on the brink of another highly publicized defeat at the New York Daily News, which continues to publish with permanent replacement workers in the heart of one of the most unionized areas of the nation.

In all four of these disputes, Kirkland said, "the hiring of permanent replacements has enabled employers to transform disputes over terms of the next labor contract into larger confrontations over whether the collective bargaining relationship will continue."

For the International Association of Machinists, which waged war against Eastern and its owner, Frank Lorenzo, for more than three years before the airline was forced into liquidation, the issue of replacement workers has become a political cause.

IAM President George Kourpias has vowed that the politically active union will not donate a penny or provide a single minute of volunteer work for any candidate that refuses to vote for the bill.

Kirkland today would not go quite that far, saying labor would continue to judge members of Congress "on their total record."