AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka urged the new Republican-controlled Congress and the White House to get together and approve the controversial, long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project, saying it would boost the economy.
"There are a number of economic issues and job issues that we want them to get done. That happens to be one of them. So the answer is 'yes.' We want to get every jobs issue that we can out and as many jobs created as we can to get the economy going," Trumka said in response to a question about the pipeline during a post-election press conference Wednesday.
It was the firmest statement on the subject that Trumka has made. The AFL-CIO has voiced qualified support for the project in the past but stopped short a full endorsement. Last year, for example, the labor coalition issued a statement supporting pipeline projects in general but did not specifically mention Keystone.
AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein explained that Trumka's statement "was a 'yes' to Keystone, but there are still a lot conditions we have" relating to project's environmental impact, worker safety and other issues.
The project has been controversial within the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, an independent group within the coalition, has strongly endorsed it, saying it will create an estimated 20,000 jobs.
But union leaders like Trumka have sought to build stronger ties to outside liberal groups, including environmentalists who oppose the pipeline project. Nine of the AFL-CIO's largest member unions have joined with groups such as the Sierra Club to form the BlueGreen Alliance to push for investments in green energy jobs.
Friction has been so strong within organized labor regarding Keystone XL that one union, the Laborer's International Union of North America, charged in a January 2012 press release that the AFL-CIO was taking its cues from environmentalists rather than its own members. LIUNA President Terry O'Sullivan said the divide was "as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon."
Sullivan added: "We're repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women."
The Keystone XL project would bring oil from Canada down through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. Because it is transnational, it must be approved by the State Department. President Obama's administration has repeatedly delayed making a decision. The Senate Energy Committee passed a bill in June that would force approval of the project, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declined to take it up.