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AFL-CIO Works To Keep Wisconsin Protests Going

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WASHINGTON (AP) – AFL-CIO leaders, sparked by the strength of pro-labor protests in Wisconsin, are deciding how they can help keep the crowds large and the pressure high as demonstrations enter a third week.

Officials at the nation’s largest labor federation said Monday they are looking for a more strategic approach to keep the protests going strong.

“This thing rose from the streets of Wisconsin, and if you’ve got any brains as a leader, you see a parade, you get out in front of it,” said Greg Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers and a member of the AFL-CIO’s executive council.

“Before this thing starts to diminish, we need to make sure it gets a shot of vitamins at all appropriate times,” he said.

Junemann and other AFL-CIO officials were in the nation’s capital for the federation’s annual winter meeting, where strategy sessions on the three-day agenda include “The Battle of Wisconsin: Lessons and Opportunities.”

AFL-CIO officials have been helping organize protests in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states where GOP officials seek to curb union rights.

Demonstrators in Madison, Wis., are trying to pressure Republican Gov. Scott Walker to abandon a measure that would severely restrict collective bargaining rights for nearly all the state’s public workers. Walker says it will help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the state’s budget.

The issue has helped galvanize union members nationwide, as labor leaders argue the proposal is a political maneuver meant to undermine unions and weaken a core Democratic voter base.

Junemann said union leaders want to make sure large and small unions are all working in tandem “to make absolute best use of our resources, and that means people power.” He said they are even trying to get Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to address the crowd. Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, is the Packers’ union representative in negotiations with the NFL.

On Tuesday, the labor federation will hear from David Plouffe, senior adviser to President Barack Obama. That meeting, like most others over the three-day session, is closed to reporters. White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage declined to comment on what Plouffe was expected to say.

At a meeting of the nation’s governors on Monday, Obama urged state leaders not to vilify their own states’ public workers while struggling with spending cuts. He previously said that limiting bargaining rights “seems like more of an assault on unions.”

Some labor leaders have complained that, other than a couple of comments, Obama has not come out strongly enough to support the pro-union protesters.

“What you see is the typical ‘Can’t we all get along?’ Obama mantra from this administration,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, a member of the AFL-CIO executive council who also serves as executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association. “He’s trying to be the ultimate pragmatist.”

But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said he’s satisfied with Obama’s response.

“I think he’s doing it the right way,” Trumka said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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