Leaders of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 national and international labor unions, are still neutral on the pipeline project. But AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka tackled the topic last month at the Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy in New York City.
"We cannot have a trust-building conversation about it unless opponents of the pipeline recognize that construction jobs are real jobs, good jobs, and supporters of the pipeline recognize that tar sands oil raises real issues in terms of climate change," Trumka said.
Obama Not Losing Union Votes
Despite the rift over Keystone XL, most observers agree that the animosity won’t sour the vast majority of union members on uniting to re-elect Obama.
In fact, the pro-pipeline union that represents plumbers, pipefitters and welders endorsed the president’s re-election effort way back in August. William Hite, an Obama ally and fellow Chicagoan, heads that union.
"I don't think the division in the unions is as significant as it is being made out to be by some," said Uehlein, founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability. "Unions disagreeing on an issue is not unheard of. We’ve seen a lot of these divisions before."
Chuck Porcari, a spokesman for the Communications Workers, said his union joined the environmental organizations in signing the Jan. 18 statement because a project as complex as the Keystone XL needs extra scrutiny.
He said it is "preposterous" that members of the building and construction trades would vote against Obama because of a single oil pipeline.
"The idea that his base would be split is absolutely ridiculous," Porcari told InsideClimate News. "The Republicans are desperate. They're trying to drive a wedge into a brick wall and it isn't going to happen."