Union leaders not optimistic about economy this Labor Day

Friday, August 29, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Despite new signs the economy is improving, union leaders said Thursday that the gains are failing to reach America's workers this Labor Day.

"We do not see a reason to be optimistic about the current economic situation," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the economy emerged from the doldrums in the second quarter of this year and grew at a solid 3.1 percent annual rate, a better performance than the government thought just a month ago.

Yet the economy has lost 2.7 million net jobs since the recession began in March 2001, and the average time people are unemployed is more than 19 weeks. The nation's unemployment rate is at 6.2 percent.

"Far too many people are out of work and many have been out of work a long time," Sweeney said. "White-collar as well as blue-collar employees are losing jobs, and many of these jobs aren't coming back."

Headed overseas

A flood of U.S. jobs are going overseas because of the massive trade deficit, which is running at an annual rate of $488.5 billion for the first six months of this year, said Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer.

"We need a president who says that no economy can be strong unless you produce jobs at home," he said.

Sweeney blamed the Bush administration for the poor economic outlook for workers this Labor Day holiday. Three rounds of tax cuts passed by Congress have gone to the wealthiest taxpayers and exploded the federal deficit, he said.

Sweeney also criticized the administration's proposal to change overtime pay rules. The Labor Department says its proposal will make more than 1 million low-income workers eligible for overtime pay, but that about 640,000 people could lose theirs. A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank, said 8 million workers could lose overtime pay.

A Democrat-led vote to block the Labor Department proposal could come up in the Senate next week.

Unions also are looking to next year's presidential election, and whittling down their support for one or two of the nine Democrats to challenge President Bush.

"After watching the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, union members are ready to take on the challenge of electing a working people's president," Sweeney said.

President Bush will travel to Ohio on Monday's Labor Day holiday for an event with the International Union of Operating Engineers.

He will talk with union members and their families about "the administration's commitment to helping workers and Americans who want to work get back to work," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Thursday.

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