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Labor Group Endorses Davis

Politics: Support from the state coalition of unions 'was like magic' in the last election, governor says.

November 29, 2001|NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Labor Federation, which during the last governor's race backed a man ranked fourth out of four contenders in the polls, on Wednesday threw its considerable clout behind the same candidate, incumbent Gov. Gray Davis.

Although the coalition of unions' endorsement was no surprise, Davis and labor officials used it to stress the political influence of the group, which says it represents 2 million members. They also drew parallels between Davis' initial, long-shot race for governor and the upcoming campaign, in which he will enjoy the advantages of incumbency but has had a rocky position in early polls and may face a wealthy opponent.

"When they endorsed me last time, it was like magic," Davis said, flanked by 25 labor leaders at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles. "I went from fourth to first in the polls in eight weeks. . . . If it worked once, it can work twice."

Art Pulaski, the executive secretary-treasurer of the federation, recalled the difficult decision to endorse Davis in 1998, when he was running behind another Democrat, former Northwest Airlines Chief Executive Al Checchi. "You know," Pulaski said, "we had a man who was a millionaire running for public office."

Two millionaires--former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Bill Simon Jr.--are competing for the Republican nomination to challenge Davis next November.

Davis returned labor's sentiment. In a move sure to endear him to workers, Davis proposed making enhanced unemployment benefits that take effect next year retroactive for workers laid off after the terrorist attacks. "Everyone understands it's right to take care of people who've lost their work," Davis said. "The costs will be bearable, and people will understand."

He also cited $6.2 billion in capital projects next year that he said would create new jobs, and he promised to listen to labor's suggestions on how to close a budget deficit of up to $14 billion.

Davis said he believed labor would support tough decisions yet to be made on the state budget. "Members of organized labor are taxpayers as well. This is their money," he said, promising a "collaborative" decision-making process that would involve labor and business.

Several of Davis' decisions have irked labor in the last three years. For example, the governor has angered unions by promoting bonuses for teachers whose students' test scores improve and vetoing legislation that would have monitored farm work contractors.

But labor leaders accentuated the positive Wednesday. Pulaski said the 16 years of Republican governors before Davis hurt workers. Pulaski said, "We're proud of the action he [Davis] has taken."

Pulaski credited Davis with increasing the state minimum wage, requiring overtime for employees working more than an eight-hour day and improving workplace health and safety protections.

Miguel Contreras, executive director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said Davis, a former chief of staff to Gov. Jerry Brown, "has a 25-year record with us."

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