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Union leaders seek to mend divisions over pipeline

By Sam Hananel

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 10 2012 10:49 a.m. MST

The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would carry tar sands oil from western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. The company expected to be ready in a few weeks to submit plans for a new route that avoids the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills region and an aquifer that is a key water source for eight states.

It's hardly the first time unions have disagreed with each other.

Union officials say there are bound to be conflicts among the labor federation's 57 member unions. The pipeline split is just one of more than a dozen topics that will come up in Orlando.

Generally, there is broad support for endorsing Obama for a second term and working to fend off anti-union legislation in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states. Unions are working together to recall Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., who led the drive to pass legislation that curbed collective bargaining rights for many of the state's public employees.

A big issue this election year is how the AFL-CIO focuses its political apparatus and money to help Obama win and boost Democrats in their efforts to regain control of the House and keep their majority in the Senate.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina will attend the meeting as union presidents and their political operatives consider how much to spend on campaign advertising, phone banks and door-to-door efforts that traditionally benefit Democratic candidates.

"Repositioning" the labor movement and improving the image of unions also are on the agenda as leaders experiment with new organizing techniques and try to attract more public support in their fight with critics trying to limit their clout in state legislatures.

The AFL-CIO has spent about $1.5 million this year on a "Work Connects Us All" television ad campaign in three cities. Union leaders are considering whether to expand the campaign, which also includes a new website.

"We need to get out the message that we're all in this together," said United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard. "There's a reason the right wing is attacking the hell out of the labor movement. We're effective in speaking for the 99 percent and the right wing doesn't like that."

Online:

AFL-CIO: http://www.aflcio.org

Keystone Pipeline: http://www.transcanada.com/keystone.html

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