Major federal employee union backs Kerry

Late Friday the American Federation of Government Employees endorsed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for president after a formal vote of about 600 delegates attending an organizing and mobilizing conference in Pittsburgh.

In a briefing for reporters, AFGE President John Gage said that the 210,000-member union believes Kerry would reverse President Bush's efforts to outsource government jobs and revamp civil service rules.

Kerry, Gage added, "strongly opposes the use of quotas in contracting out federal jobs. He supports the rights of federal employees to form and join unions. He opposes taking away overtime rights for workers across the country and he opposes converting Social Security to a system of private accounts."

AFGE members are therefore ready to mobilize on Kerry's behalf, Gage said. "This election is going to be won on the ground," he said. Gage is working to boost the percentage of AFGE members who vote for Kerry to 73 percent of the total union membership, as opposed to the 68 percent that voted for Al Gore, AFGE's presidential choice in 2000.

Gage said he is confident that he will achieve that goal. "We've seen quite a turnaround among our more conservative members in [the Defense Department], the Border Patrol and law enforcement," he said, because of the Bush administration's efforts to revamp personnel rules at the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department.

Congress passed legislation in 2002 and 2003 that will allow those departments to replace the General Schedule with a pay-for-performance system that union leaders believe will lead to cronyism.

Gage said that he is heading up get-out-the-vote efforts in the battleground state of New Mexico, which Gore won by about 400 votes in 2000, on behalf of the larger union movement, and that AFGE activists were focusing on 15 battleground states.

The union has about $1 million to spend on a media campaign that will include targeted advertising highlighting AFGE's criticisms of Bush's Medicare, Veterans Affairs and Social Security policies.

At the same time, Gage has been mindful not to alienate Republican union members, which AFGE estimates at between 20 percent and 30 percent of total membership. Many care deeply about nonunion issues such as abortion and gun control. In 2000, the AFGE joined with its umbrella union--the AFL-CIO--in endorsing Gore more than a year before the election, a decision Gage felt was a mistake. "A good percentage of our members are Republican and coming out during the primaries seems to inflame them," he said.

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