BAL HARBOUR, Fla. — It appears likely that the AFL-CIO will not endorse a candidate during the primaries, labor leaders gathered here said Wednesday.
Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and William H. Wynn, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, two of the labor federation's largest affiliates, as well as numerous other union leaders, said they thought there was little chance of an endorsement before the Democratic convention.
Both said the reason was clear: No clear consensus on a favorite has emerged. In order for the 14.1-million-member labor federation to make an endorsement, it would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the AFL-CIO's general board.
Endorsement Held Possible
But AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said it was possible that there would be an endorsement before the Democratic convention in July, although he stressed the necessity of the two-thirds "minimum consensus."
"I'm not going to force it and I'm not going to invent it," he said. "It has to be there."
Some union presidents, such as Morton Bahr of the Communications Workers of America, said they hoped that a consensus would emerge after Super Tuesday, but many others said they thought that unlikely.
This year's situation represents a sharp departure from what labor did during the last presidential campaign. In October, 1983, the federation, in an unprecedented move, overwhelmingly endorsed Walter F. Mondale, a longtime friend of labor, several months before the first primary. Union workers played a key role in helping Mondale secure the Democratic nomination, but in the process he was branded as being the captive of special interests.
Advice to Delay Endorsement
Since then, some labor leaders and Democratic Party officials, including national committee Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., have urged the federation not to make an endorsement before the convention in Atlanta this summer.
In an attempt to avoid the sort of factionalism that has occasionally beset labor during Democratic primary campaigns--particularly the 1980 battle between President Jimmy Carter and Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy--the AFL-CIO has formally requested its 97 affiliated unions not to endorse a candidate before an endorsement by the federation as a whole.
Thus far, only the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers, one of the few unions in the country with a black president, has broken ranks, endorsing the Rev. Jesse Jackson late last year.
Numerous unions have been active in the early going, however, slating delegates for most of the Democratic contenders, with the goal of maximizing the number of labor delegates at the Democratic convention.
Some union political activists, including those in the United Auto Workers, long active in presidential politics, are finding the restraints imposed by the AFL-CIO uncomfortable and are concerned that the impact of their efforts is being blunted because of the no-endorsement policy.