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Poll Backs Private Accounts

March 24, 2005|Tom Hamburger | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Business-funded organizations hit back at the most aggressive critics of President Bush's proposal to change Social Security, accusing the AFL-CIO of failing to represent its membership.

Citing the results of a survey to be released today, the business groups argue that most union members favor the private accounts advocated by Bush even though union leaders oppose them. The unions and their allies say that the survey is biased and that most union members -- and the general public -- do not support Bush's proposal.

The business groups' poll is the latest salvo in an intensifying battle over the president's proposal to allow workers born in 1950 or later to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes to private investment accounts.

The new survey of union members was commissioned by the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, or Compass, which has been attacked by the AFL-CIO as a front group for companies hoping to make profits from a "privatized" system.

Nearly 60% of union members were interested in creating individual accounts, according to the poll. The survey of 600 union members, conducted by the GOP polling firm Ayres, McHenry & Associates in early March, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"Why are big-labor bosses doing everything in their power to deny their members the option of personal retirement accounts when rank-and-file members clearly want to make this choice on their own?" said Compass' executive director, Derrick A. Max.

The head of the Business Roundtable, a Washington organization of blue-chip companies, said the poll "should be a wake-up call for union leaders in Washington" who are "out of touch with their ... members."

In a letter Wednesday to AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, Roundtable President John J. Castellani wrote that the new poll's "unmistakable conclusion is that labor union members support Social Security reform."

A similar poll commissioned by the same organizations and released a week ago indicated that senior citizens favor private accounts providing there are no changes in benefits for those born before 1950. That poll led to charges that leaders of AARP, which opposes the president's initiative and is the nation's largest seniors lobby, do not represent the interests of retirees.

These polls run counter to most independent surveys, which have consistently shown that a majority of older adults think private accounts are a bad idea. The polls might explain why the Republicans continue to aggressively pursue Social Security overhaul.

The survey released today suggests that union members, by a ratio of more than 2 to 1, think offering private accounts to workers younger than 55 is a good idea and that six of 10 union members are at least somewhat likely to create an account if given the opportunity.

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Denise Mitchell said that polls commissioned by her organization had found that 60% of union households oppose Bush's proposal.

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