It Was a Struggle, but Gore Gets Big Labor

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Crowing "I always get two thirds," AFL-CIO president John Sweeney on Wednesday delivered to Al Gore the endorsement he coveted, that of Big Labor. "More than any other national leader," the resolution shoved through by Sweeney read, "Al Gore has used the power of his office to defend the freedom of workers to choose a union, free from interference by their employers." For Gore, who’ll get a stump-thumping grassroots organization that his excitement-deprived campaign sorely needs –- and one that has $40 million to spend –- the endorsement couldn’t have come at a better time. As in now. "Bill Bradley wasn’t really counting on getting the union vote anyway, but he was pushing hard for a delay," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Because if the AFL-CIO convention had come and gone without the nod for Gore, it would have been a disaster. And it would have been more evidence for the perception that Gore’s just not electable."

But despite the collective wrangling of Sweeney, Bill Clinton and Gore himself, 2.2 million of Gore’s 13 million new friends are sending just that message. The Teamsters (evidently, a presidential photo-op doesn’t hold the charm it once did) and the United Auto Workers both dissented, calling Sweeney’s dictum "a sod job" and citing southern-fried wisdom about weighing one’s pig before wrapping it. Which hardly means they were Bradley backers — just that they wanted to soak Gore for a few more concessions before climbing aboard. In fact, what impressed Branegan was how quietly –- and quickly — the rest of the AFL-CIO went along. "It seems to be a very enlightened group," he says. "Both Bradley and Gore are free-traders — Gore’s biggest moment was defending NAFTA against Perot — and there hasn’t been a word about that." Of course, George W. Bush’s own dad was the father of NAFTA, and the unions know that bickering over this Democrat or that only helps the GOP.