A statement reported yesterday by a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that several large AFL-CIO unions intend to cooperate in trying to have labor delegates elected to the 1988 Democratic National Convention is not correct. The plan is not supported by the Communications Workers of America. (Published 8/20/87)
The AFL-CIO, formally conceding it can find nothing close to consensus among its members for any presidential candidate, said yesterday there will be no union endorsement at least until next year's opening contests have narrowed the field of contenders.
But the "voluntary guidelines" announced by federation President Lane Kirkland at the conclusion of an executive council meeting allow wide scope for unions to help elect labor delegates pledged to their favorites, and many of the major unions plan to get into the fight that way.
Kirkland told a news conference at AFL-CIO headquarters it would have been "a lot easier" for labor to exert its influence if it could have repeated the kind of early endorsement it gave Walter F. Mondale for the Democratic nomination in October 1983. "But there is no consensus within our ranks at the local or national level," he said. "I couldn't get a two-thirds vote around that table," as endorsement procedures require.
As a result, he said, no endorsement is likely before the first contests next February in Iowa and New Hampshire, which usually reduce the size of the candidate field.
Kirkland said the labor federation, which was instrumental in Mondale's hard-fought nomination victory in 1984, "can still play an effective role" by assisting union members to become delegates. But several union operatives agreed with the Machinists' William Holayter that it will be "very difficult" for labor to play the same kind of role it did last time.
A quick canvass of many of the major internationals turned up only one union whose president was prepared to announce his personal choice: the Bricklayers' John T. Joyce for Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D).
But political director Joan Baggett said "we'll definitely comply" with the ban on formal endorsements by national or international unions.
Though the guidelines are voluntary, Kirkland noted that they had passed unanimously. While most internationals seemed content to abide by them, it became clear almost immediately that several unions hope to expand the delegate "loophole" into nearly as active a role as they have played in the past.
Phil Sparks, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes (AFSCME), said it has plans on the drawing board to "throw our resources behind labor delegate slates" in the early states. Sparks said discussions had turned up support for such a multicandidate strategy among such other large unions as the Food and Commercial Workers, the Communications Workers, the Auto Workers and the Machinists.
That might mean, he said, backing delegate slates pledged to different candidates in different states, or even in different districts of the same state, as a similar group of unions did with mixed success in the 1976 Democratic contest.
Kenneth T. Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employes, said "there are a lot of regional favorites," and others predicted state and local union officials would sign up as delegate candidates for their home-state contenders as a proxy form of endorsement.
The guidelines say that AFL-CIO and international union "officers and staff should not participate on presidential candidates' committees, solicit funds on behalf of presidential candidates or provide funds or other resources to presidential candidates or to delegate committees established in behalf of any presidential candidates prior to any AFL-CIO endorsement."
However, they add that "it is not the intent . . . to limit the ability of AFL-CIO affiliates to endorse and to support union members and their families who are delegate candidates or the right of all union members including . . . union officers, acting as individuals, to be delegate candidates."
Senior AFL-CIO officials said that meant that in caucus states like Iowa, unions could urge their members to attend and support fellow-unionists; in primaries where delegates are listed, unions could provide financial and organizational help for union members seeking delegate slots, but not for slates including non-unionists; and in primaries where only the presidential candidates are on the ballot, could help those candidates who have given the highest priority and most slots to union member-delegates.