(CNSNews.com) - The Bush White House, in developing its strategy for re-election, is trying to build a relationship with the Teamsters and Carpenters unions, even at the expense of workers, according to an official with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Stefan Gleason, vice president of National Right to Work, said the strategy is being spearheaded by Ken Mehlman, the White House political director and is aimed at building more support for Bush in union-dominated states like Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania, all of which Bush lost in the 2000 presidential election.
"Whether we agree or disagree [on every issue], there's an open door for labor," Mehlman told Business Week magazine earlier this year.
However, the White House strategy, which Gleason describes as an attempt "to cozy up to the top Teamsters and Carpenters union officials," is futile, he said.
"It's ridiculous," said Gleason, "it's not even working. We're concerned that it's causing the Bush administration to give more concessions on union issues like union coercive power, compulsory unionism and project labor agreements and NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) nominations."
Gleason also believes attempts by the White House and the Republican Party to court big labor have done little to reverse union support for higher taxes and increased business regulation and union opposition to the partial privatization of Social Security.
National Right To Work criticizes what it calls "the current stonewalling" of the National Right to Work Act (H.R. 1109), a bill that would eliminate the power to seize compulsory union dues as a condition of employment. "This bill is the union hierarchy's worst nightmare," National Right to Work states.
The bill awaits action by the House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner.
Even when Republicans devote special attention to the unions, the unions are ungrateful, Gleason said.
"The races that they (Teamsters and Carpenters Unions) give money to Republicans are the uncontested races that don't matter or the ones that aren't close. All the races that are close, they are giving money to the Democrats," he said.
"Experience has shown that Republican attempts to cozy up to union officials doesn't end up being a very good deal for Republicans. What really matters to the union hierarchy is seizing power. They have a lot more power when the Democrats are in office than they have when the Republicans are in," said Gleason.
A spokesman for the Teamsters Union, which endorsed Democrat Al Gore for president in 2000, thinks the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation is making the accusations to try and get publicity.
"The National Right to Work Foundation is just a shill for big corporations. They pull stunts all the time and try to do outrageous things to get publicity. That's what they try and do. It's not really worthy of any comment other than that," said Brian Rainville, a Teamsters Union spokesman.
However, Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, has a different perspective.
"I think the White House correctly is trying to make friends with the unions. I have a lot of people in unions who vote for me and I'm a Republican," said Norwood during a Washington press conference Thursday.
Neither the White House nor the Carpenters Union returned phone calls seeking further comment.
Bush has been trying to break the Democratic Party's stranglehold on union-dominated states - an alliance that nearly cost Bush the 2000 election. The White House, according to several insiders, has written off the AFL-CIO because of the left-wing views of its president, John Sweeney. But the Bush administration has been aggressively wooing the Teamsters Union, especially its president James Hoffa, who supports White House efforts to begin oil drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. The Teamsters believe such drilling would create thousands of jobs.
Last June, President Bush welcomed more than 200 Teamster political and legislative coordinators and union officers to the White House for a special briefing on national economic and homeland security.
"Jim (Hoffa) always knows that when he calls the White House, the president is always available," said Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao during that meeting.
Hoffa also got to sit in the presidential box at the 2002 State of the Union Address. He gets bi-weekly audiences with Mehlman and was named to an administration task force on workplace issues.
"We have better access to the administration than we did to the Clinton administration," Hoffa has said. "We have a very open relationship."
Earlier this month, on Labor Day, Carpenters Union president Douglas McCarron hosted Bush at a carpenters' picnic outside Pittsburgh. McCarron also believes some Bush policies are benefiting carpenters, like a legislative change to boost construction worker pensions and the easing of air pollution rules to speed up power plant renovations.
"I think we've got a better chance working with this administration than dissing it all the time," McCarron told the New York Times. "[Bush's] views are not similar to my views on a lot of issues, but on a lot of issues he understands working families.
"I am completely convinced in the integrity of George Bush," McCarron said.
Gleason contends that such meetings are tilting Bush administration policy toward "what union officials want, which isn't necessarily what rank and file workers want.
"This strategy is a detriment to rank and file workers and they deserve better from the Bush administration," Gleason said.
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