BAL HARBOUR, Fla. — AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said Wednesday that he anticipates that a consensus will emerge in organized labor on who should be elected President in 1988, thus enabling the federation to make an endorsement this fall. But many union presidents said they doubt that any candidate can muster the necessary two-thirds vote to gain the labor federation's backing.
"I'm proceeding on the assumption that there is a very strong chance" that there will be a consensus by the time of the vote at the AFL-CIO's convention in Miami in late October, Kirkland said.
However, Jerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the federation's largest and most politically active unions, said "nobody is near two-thirds now."
No Favorite Seen
Several other union presidents, including Lynn Williams of the United Steelworkers, Morton Bahr of the Communications Workers of America, William Wynn of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers and John Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union, said there was no clear favorite and indicated that it was hardly a certainty that one would emerge.
Several presidents said that Democratic New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo would have the best chance of getting the endorsement if he got into the race soon but that he would by no means be "a lock." Bahr, a longtime supporter of Cuomo, said that, if Cuomo has any intention of running, he has erred by not making an appearance here at the AFL-CIO meeting, as most of the other Democratic hopefuls did in the past week.
Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale got the AFL-CIO endorsement by an overwhelming vote at the October, 1983, labor convention and went on to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. Along the way, however, he was attacked by rival candidates Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) and then-Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) as being a captive of organized labor, even though both of them had sought the AFL-CIO endorsement and had been supported by labor in earlier Senate races.
Hart branded labor a "special interest," and alienated many union members in the process. Shanker said there was "still a lot of anger" toward Hart among his members.
Hart, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson made appearances before labor groups here in the past week. Hart is the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination in most polls, but most union presidents said they thought it highly unlikely that he would get the AFL-CIO endorsement.
However, when asked about Hart on Wednesday, Kirkland said: "We believe in redemption. We will afford all candidates every opportunity. We are open to them."
That includes Republicans, Kirkland said. Organized labor has never supported a Republican for President and is very unlikely to do so this year, but Kirkland held out the possibility that the AFL-CIO might endorse a Democrat and a Republican before the primaries begin next year.
He said several Republicans, including former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, had indicated an interest in participating in the AFL-CIO's endorsement process.
Kirkland said the federation will invite every candidate in both parties "to speak directly on video" to union members. He said each candidate will be asked a broad question on how he would deal with major problems facing the nation. Each will be provided the same technical facilities for the presentations and the same amount of time for an answer. "We hope for widespread use of these videos at local union meetings, councils, boards . . . and by those activists who are the most involved in the political process," Kirkland said.
A separate set of more detailed written questions will be submitted to each candidate, and their responses also will be disseminated as widely as possible, including sending them to union members' homes, Kirkland said. He said the 92 member unions will attempt to ascertain the desires of the federation's 12.8 million members on whom to endorse in a variety of ways, including polls, meetings and by other means.
'Not a Single-Issue Group'
Kirkland was asked if labor would endorse a candidate who does not support labor's goal of raising the minimum wage. "We are not a single-issue group," he said. In response to another question, he answered: "No litmus tests."
Kirkland said it was possible that the federation might wind up giving its approval to more than one candidate or to no candidate. Throughout the week here, several union presidents said contingency plans to get labor delegates elected to the Democratic convention would have to be considered if no endorsement is made. In 1976, a coalition of AFL-CIO unions pooled resources to get delegates pledged to several candidates elected so labor would have a voice at the Democratic convention. In 1980, AFL-CIO unions were badly split between then-President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Kirkland pushed for the pre-primary endorsement process in 1983 in an attempt to avoid the splintering that had occurred in earlier years. He said Wednesday that he hoped unity could be achieved again to maximize labor's voice in the selection of presidential nominees.