(Photo courtesy of Office of the Architects of the Capitol/Charles Badal)

Construction supporters of President George W. Bush or his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry, both believe the Nov. 2 election is the most important in their lifetime. Leaders of organized labor claim Bush administration policies are the most anti-worker in recent history.

The skyrocketing cost of health care, loss of jobs across numerous sectors and such trade issues as outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries are the key rallying points for labor’s battle to send Kerry to the White House. Labor’s fight began almost immediately after Bush took office when, in February 2001, he issued an executive order that essentially banned project labor agreements on most federal construction projects. "Another four years of this administration will kill us," says the political director of one building trades union.

RECEIVING LINE Bush makes a campaign stop at the carpenters’ Las Vegas training center. (Photo courtesy of AP /Wideworld)

Bush backers, led by the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors, assert the administration must remain in office because of its strong support for "open competition and free enterprise," the hallmark of the group’s merit shop philosophy. ABC maintains that Bush’s re-election will allow small construction firms the "freedom to do business in this country without government red tape and frivolous regulations." The trade group made re-electing the president its top priority in June 2003, long before the campaign season began. All parties agree, however, that the November election will be as close as the 2000 presidential race.

Organized labor’s all-out strategy is being directed by the AFL-CIO, in its most aggressive get-out-the-vote effort, including grassroots programs to increase voter registration among craft workers and their families by at least 10%. Labor is focusing on issue education and increasing voter turnout on election day from the approximately 26% of union households that voted in 2000.


The labor group wants greater visibility of the presidents of its affiliated member unions. Each has been assigned at least one state, many considered battlegrounds, where they will spend considerable time between now and Nov. 2, knocking on the doors of union households, attending rallies and speaking to the rank-and-file. Painters’ President James A.Williams calls the level of involvement by the general presidents "the highest I’ve ever seen."

Individual building trades unions have tailored their own programs, most increasing their participation well before the traditional Labor Day campaign kick-off. The laborers’ union suspended most of its organizing campaigns several weeks ago so that organizers can focus on voter registration drives, says laborers’ General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. The laborers’ chief is assigned to Ohio, a key swing state where pundits expect the race to be as close as Florida was in the 2000 election. That makes it especially important to "register every member that you can," adds O’Sullivan, who has visited Ohio twice to knock on workers’ doors.

The economy, including the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, is a hot issue for workers. Sean McGarvey, political director for the painters’ union, says that when the economy is strong and workers are employed they are more concerned with a candidate’s view on social issues, particularly guns and abortion. Some believe...