Bruised by Republican election victories in the White House, Senate and House, leaders of building trades unions realize they will face an even more difficult time on regulatory and legislative issues in 2005.

Unions poured millions of dollars and mobilized vast resources behind Sen. John Kerry's campaign, but were outdone by the GOP. "The Republicans have a fantastic operation," says Sean McGarvey, political director of the painters' union. He believes that social and moral issues fueled the Bush victory. "If it was guns and abortion against the economy--without terrorism--there would be a new president today," claims McGarvey. "Fear is a powerful motivator and many voters were scared to death that John Kerry wouldn’t protect them."

The AFL-CIO says that 67% of union members voted for Kerry, but clearly that wasn't enough.


Nevertheless, labor takes solace from what McGarvey says was a 30% increase in registered voters in the battleground states. The painters had 172 members working full-time in those states in the final stretch before the election. "We’ve never done anything close to that," he adds.

Smaller unions that had not been politically active in previous elections also stepped up, notes McGarvey. "We just couldn’t overcome the [GOP] numbers,” he acknowledges. But he sees the increased numbers of members who worked on the Kerry campaign as a good start of a field effort in the next elections, in 2006.

But in the meantime, tough battles loom on issues such as new Bush administration overtime regulations, which unions will keep pushing to reverse, says Vincent Panvini, political director of the sheet metal workers' union. He also says the building trades will continue their long-standing efforts to protect Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wages. "We're ready to fight and stick up for the working people," Panvini says.

After his Nov. 2 win, President Bush pledged to reach out even to those who didn't vote for him. Recognizing the realities in Washington under Bush's first term, unions have been working with administration officials on some issues. "We've had a fine relationship with the Dept. of Labor over the last four years,' says ironworkers' union President Joe Hunt.

But for the new Bush administration and Congress, labor topics may well take a back seat to larger issues. Hunt says, "We have a lot of problems in this country: Iraq, jobs, health care. It is not going to be an easy four years."