Labor fears bias in ranks could hurt Obama's bid

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Washington, Sept.8 : Because Barack Obama is black does not mean that white blue-collar workers should vote for him, said Labor leader Gerald W. McEntee.

"There are some of our local union presidents who are afraid - that's the word, afraid - to give out literature for Barack Obama," said McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, at a gathering of Illinois delegates at the Democratic National Convention last month. "You can't vote for Barack Obama because he's black? That's the color of his skin, and that is [irrelevant]." McEntee's concern is shared by other union leaders, who in recent weeks have made unflinching public calls to shame white members to cast aside prejudice and vote for the Illinois senator, who has the overwhelming endorsement of organized labor.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said unions leaders must confront racism head-on to ensure their members support Mr. Obama.

"There are people who are not going to vote for him because he's black, and we've got to hope that we can educate people to put aside their racism and to put their own interests No. 1," Hoffa said at the Democratic convention in Denver.

Organized labor nationwide has become more racially mixed in recent years, 12.5 million union members were white, 2.2 million black and 1.8 million Hispanic in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Organized labor historically has been a loyal and crucial voting bloc for the Democratic Party. In the 2004 presidential elections, Democratic Sen. John Kerry received 65 percent of the union vote, compared with 33 percent for President Bush, according to a survey by the AFL-CIO labor federation.

Unions have a heavy investment in the November elections, expecting to spend about 400 million dollars promoting issues and candidates. The AFL-CIO federation alone has said it will spend more than 200 million dollars.

ANI

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