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Bush Meets With Labor Leaders - 2002-01-17

President Bush met with U.S. labor leaders Thursday to discuss his energy plan that would open-up more oil drilling in the northern U.S. state of Alaska. While environmentalists oppose the move, union leaders support the president because more drilling would create more jobs.

The president is lining-up union support for an energy plan that has passed the Republican-led House but is stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate over environmental concerns about drilling in Alaska's Anwar wildlife refuge.

President Bush thanked labor leaders for supporting a plan that he says will lessen the country's reliance on foreign oil at the same time it creates more jobs at home. "This energy bill that we are working on is a jobs bill," he said. "And when we explore for power, U.S. power, U.S. energy in Anwar, we are not only helping us become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil and foreign sources of energy, we are creating jobs for American workers, jobs so that men and women can put food on the table."

The president met with leaders of the Teamsters union, seafarers, and carpenters as well as the nation's biggest labor movement, the 13 million-member AFL/CIO. The meeting at Teamsters' headquarters was part of the president's continuing push to improve relations with politically-active unions that traditionally support Democratic issues.

AFL/CIO leader John Sweeny last week criticized the president's recess appointment of Eugene Scalia as the Labor Department's top lawyer. Mr. Sweeny said the decision was "a slap in the face of American workers" because of what he called Mr. Scalia's "extreme positions opposing worker protections."

The AFL/CIO also opposes the president's economic stimulus plan, saying its corporate tax cuts ignore the needs of unemployed workers who have lost their health insurance.

But on this energy legislation, the president has found allies in his push to get the changes through the Senate. The president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Doug McCarron told Mr. Bush Thursday that he will personally ask Democratic Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle to schedule a vote on the energy plan.

Despite record lay-offs, the U.S. Labor Department says more than 16 million Americans were members of trade unions last year a figure that remained steady as increased labor organizing offset the loss of more than one million jobs.