updated 6/11/2004 1:55:35 PM ET 2004-06-11T17:55:35

Jobs are sending union members to the streets and, labor leaders hope, to the polls in November for Democrat John Kerry.

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In labor’s largest election mobilization effort so far, thousands of union members will knock on tens of thousands of doors Saturday, in what ultimately will be nearly 100 cities by month’s end to talk about the loss of good-paying jobs, the economy, health care and the presidential election.

“This is the earliest walk we’ve ever done and the largest walk of this magnitude,” said Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO’s political director.

Voter mobilization on behalf of Democrats is what labor does best, and union member-to-member contact, research shows, influences both turnout and vote.

The AFL-CIO is spending a record $44 million on get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat President Bush, concentrating heavily on 17 battleground states. The tab doesn’t include the multimillion-dollar political budgets of the federation’s 61 unions.

Labor leaders say their efforts are aided by an economy that has left behind working Americans and shed good-paying jobs with health care and other benefits.

“The jobs issue trumps everything,” said Rick Sloan, spokesman for the 730,000-member International Association of Machinists, which has lost 90,000 members since 2000. “It trumps terrorism, it trumps Iraq, it trumps Afghanistan, because it is absolutely personal. It is about where you live and where you eat and how you eat.”

Door-to-door work
The AFL-CIO unions are sending members door-to-door to labor households every weekend this month to say just that. On Tuesday, Kerry will speak in Atlantic City at the AFL-CIO’s 26th Constitutional Convention

“When jobs and trade become part of the discussion, our polling shows that Bush loses and we win,” said Jeff Zack, spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, with 263,000 members.

According to an Associated Press survey this week, 47 percent of respondents said they approve of the president’s performance on the economy, a slight improvement from last month when only 43 percent held that view.

The economy, after a long jobs slump, has gained nearly 1.2 million jobs in the last five months — good news for the Bush campaign, which has been counting on a surge in hiring to boost the president’s re-election prospects.

But Americans don’t seem to notice improvement in their pocketbooks. An Associated Press survey this week showed that while Americans may be gaining some confidence in the economy and Bush’s performance, 57 percent of those surveyed think the nation has lost jobs in the last six months.

“I’m concerned about this economy and I want to get back to my job,” said Randy Orne, 40, of Minneapolis, a pilot furloughed for 16 months.

Making the case for Kerry
Orne, a member of the Air Line Pilots Association union and former Air Force pilot, had always voted Republican because he thought the party “was better stewards of the economy and defense.” But for the first time, he will participate Saturday in the labor walks and make a case for Kerry.

“It seems like we’re going down the path of the Wal-Mart-ization of America,” said Orne, who has a master’s degree and 17 years in the military, but will start a temp job Monday with no benefits that pays a fourth of what he earned as a pilot. He retained his health benefits because working members of his union agreed to pick up the costs for those laid off, but he’s living on savings and credit cards, and fears losing his condo.

Labor’s strength in the workplace has been plummeting, falling to just 12.9 percent of the work force last year, an all-time low. But union members have remained reliable voters for Democrats. One in four voters in the 2000 election was from a union household.

“The only way we have a voice is to exercise our vote,” said Stella Williams, 55, of North Miami, who will be knocking on doors Saturday.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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