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Labor, hunters find common ground outdoors

January 17, 2007|Lynn Marshall | Times Staff Writer

An advocacy group that will join outdoors enthusiasts with labor union members to work on environmental issues is designed to bring new faces -- and new muscle -- to conservation efforts.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which represents hunting and fishing groups across the country, announced the formation this week of the Union Sportsmen's Alliance in partnership with 20 unions that have a membership of nearly 5 million.

The group will work to increase federal funding for wildlife protection while ensuring access for hunters and fishermen.

Fred Myers, vice president of partner and affiliate programs and corporate relations for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said that the alliance evolved over the last few years.

"We started with the United Assn. of Plumbers and Pipefitters and other building trade unions and the more we talked, the more it became clear that our work was of great interest to their membership," Myers said.

An outside survey of the 20 unions involved showed that while 70% of their members hunt or fish, only 29% of that group belonged to any kind of sportsmen's organization.

While the Roosevelt partnership has traditionally been seen as a Republican-leaning group and unions traditionally favor the Democratic Party, this alliance holds promise, said Philip Brick, a professor of environmental politics at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.

"With the political situation we have now, with the country so evenly divided, I think that these kind of alliances are the only way anything is going to get done over the next 10-20 years in American politics," Brick said.

Brick said that labor has been working with environmental groups through projects like the Apollo Alliance, a national partnership that brings unions together with environmental groups to promote job growth in clean-energy industries. But the Union Sportsmen's Alliance is the largest partnership of its kind.

Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Assn. of Machinists, said that the alliance has been greeted with enthusiasm by the group's members.

"It's ... an effort to bridge the old idea of jobs versus the environment," he said. "It's very exciting to be bringing together folks who traditionally sit on opposite sides of the table in this way and looking at our common interests."

Myers, the Roosevelt vice president, says that the program is about matching demographics rather than having a labor strategy.

"Some unions aren't going to be interested," he said, "like the Screen Actors Guild, or probably the teachers' unions, but where we have that match of interests, our message is a great fit."

In addition to the machinists, the program includes the Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union and the International Assn. of Fire Fighters.

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