The heads of the nation's major blue-collar unions are to meet today to grapple with presidential politics, but it is increasingly unlikely that Gov. Bill Clinton will win a unified endorsement from big labor anytime before the Democratic Convention in July.
The reason? Although many union officials now believe Mr. Clinton is virtually assured of the Democratic nomination, several key blue-collar unions, especially the United Auto Workers, remain angry over Mr. Clinton's labor record and unsure of his commitment to labor issues.
"I don't see any need to jump out there and make an endorsement now," Joe Mangone, national political director of the UAW, said late yesterday. His comments came as leaders of his union and eight others prepared to meet at the UAW's Washington offices today to see if a unified endorsement before next week's primaries is possible.
The apparent consensus: It is not.
Mr. Clinton, who opposed a strike in Arkansas at a UAW-organized plastics plant there, enraged UAW leaders last week when he praised workers at a General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas, for going "against the leadership of their own union" in accepting work rule concessions. Mr. Mangone said such remarks made it difficult if not impossible for the UAW to endorse Mr. Clinton before primaries next week in Michigan and Illinois, two pivotal labor states.
Meanwhile, other blue-collar unions that are friendlier to Mr. Clinton indicated yesterday that they, too, would shy away from formally endorsing him right away because "pockets" of their memberships favored former Gov. Jerry Brown of California.
Former Sen. Paul Tsongas has virtually no support among the union leaders because of his opposition to labor-backed legislation pending in Congress, including a ban on the hiring of permanent replacement workers during strikes.
Few, if any, see Mr. Brown riding to victory on a sudden wave of labor support even in the industrial heartland states. But, maintained one ranking national union official yesterday: "Brown right now is carrying labor's message, and we can't ignore that."
Eventually, it is Mr. Clinton who will almost assuredly get big labor's unified backing, the official added.
Besides the UAW, leaders from such major unions as the United Steelworkers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America are casting around for a new Democratic candidate to support.
All had formally endorsed Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa but were left high and dry earlier this week when Mr. Harkin withdrew.
The lack of endorsements by the blue-collar unions or the national AFL-CIO does not mean that organized labor is sitting on the sidelines, however. Two major white-collar unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, are backing Mr. Clinton. Individually, several other unions are said to be nearing a Clinton endorsement.
Further, state and regional affiliates of all national unions have been working for various candidates since February and running delegates in their behalf for the Democratic National Convention. Most of that support has gone to Mr. Clinton.