The intensifying White House courtship of organized labor for next year's presidential race has drawn a don't-call-us, we'll-call-you response from one of its earliest 1976 union backers, the United Auto Workers.
UAW President Douglas A. Fraser told reporters yesterday his union has refused to join a labor-for-Carter group that is being formed under the tutelage of two AFL-CIO vice presidents, Paul Hall of the Seafarers and William H. Wynn of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
But Fraser said there is a "distinct . . . realistic possibility" that the UAW will wind up supporting President Carter for the lack of "viable alternatives." Labor should avoid "savaging" Carter now because it may wind up with no other choice in the end, he said.
Fraser noted that a recent survey of plant-level UAW officials showed they favored Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), 10 to 1, over Carter, and supported Carter only narrowly, 10 to 9, over California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. Rank-and-file auto workers, he said, are "increasingly negative" toward Carter, largely because of energy problems.
Despite this, Fraser said, he would not join a draft-Kennedy movement because he believes "that's a decision Kennedy has to make himself." He indicated no great enthusiasm for Brown and implied that a Republican endorsement was out of the question. "I think the best Republican they have is Harold Stassen, especially with his new hairpiece," he quipped.
Fraser said he would have no trouble endorsing Carter and even campaigning for him, but he added pointedly: "There are degrees of enthusiasm."
Fraser was in town to address the founding convention of Wynn's union, which also heard strongly political accolades to Carter by two of his Cabinet secretaries, Bob Bergland of Agriculture and Ray Marshall of Labor. Wynn also put in a plug for the president.
At the same time, Hall and Wynn's political lieutenants met with their counterparts from about 10 other AFL-CIO unions reported to be "tilting" toward Carter in hopes of organizing a labor-for-Carter movement. Earlier this week, Carter had AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland to dinner at the White House.
These moves come in the face of strong union opposition to Carter's economic and energy policies and generally strained relations between labor and the administration.
"There's a lot of dissatisfaction out there, but it's getting down to options," said one AFL-CIO official. "There's two years and four months to overcome, but it's not insurmountable."