SAN DIEGO, Calif. (PAI) – Politics will be a big item on the AFL-CIO executive council agenda at its meeting in San Diego, March 4 – 6.

The likelihood of an endorsement is slim because there aren’t enough votes available from member unions, under federation rules, to issue one. To be endorsed a candidate must have the backing of unions representing 67 percent of the 10 million members who belong to AFL-CIO unions. Neither Senator Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton have yet gained enough support.

Of the AFL-CIO’s biggest unions, AFSCME and the Teachers endorsed Clinton. So have at least 10 other unions or sectors, including the Letter Carriers, and the Machinists. Another big union, the Communication Workers, left the decision to its locals. The Auto Workers made no decision.

Other unions are free now to make a new decision because their previously endorsed candidate has dropped out. This includes the Steel Workers and Mine Workers who had endorsed former Senator John Edwards and the Fire Fighters who had backed Senator Christopher Dodd.

The Utility Workers are the latest construction union, joining the Boilermakers, for Obama. The Sheet Metal Workers and the Painters back Clinton.

Much is happening below the level of presidential politics, however. AFL-CIO political committee director, Karen Ackerman, says the federation will be involved in 528 races – everything from referendums and local city councils to governorships and U.S. Senate seats.

The federation plans to make universal health care its number one domestic political issue this fall.

Taking into account plans backed by the two Democratic rivals, a panel of union presidents is working on what type of health care plan the federation will back next year.

Both Obama and Clinton want to build on the present combined private-public system while extending coverage, but with cost controls and measures to help the poor pay for health insurance. Obama wants to cover all kids first, while cutting costs for adults to make insurance available to everyone. Clinton would mandate everyone buy insurance.

United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard, a panel member, is a strong advocate of government run single payer health insurance – basically extending Medicare to all. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who is out of the race, was the only presidential hopeful who supported this approach.

Increasing numbers of unions are backing single payer insurance. Among them are the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, the IFPTE, the OPEIU, the ILA, the Steelworkers, the UAW, the Plumbers, the Musicians, the Letter Carriers, the Machinists, the Electrical Workers, and the Sheet Metal Workers.

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