Commentary Magazine


Unions Slam Obama for Pipeline Delay

Obama’s non-decision on the Keystone XL pipeline yesterday was supposed to mollify both the unions and the environmentalists, encouraging them to play nice until after the election. But the move may have come too late. The project seemed like a certainty, so when Obama put the kibosh on it the green groups saw it as a victory, and the labor unions took it as a stunning rebuke.

Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, didn’t hold back in a statement slamming the Obama administration yesterday:

Environmentalists formed a circle around the White House and within days the Obama Administration chose to inflict a potentially fatal delay to a project that is not just a pipeline, but is a lifeline for thousands of desperate working men and women. The Administration chose to support environmentalists over jobs – job-killers win, American workers lose.

Environmental groups from the Natural Resources Defense Council to the Sierra Club may be dancing in the streets, having delayed and possibly stopped yet another project that would put men and women back to work. While they celebrate, pipeline workers will continue to lose their homes and livelihoods.

We had hoped the decision would have been made on the basis of economics, facts and the best interests of the nation, not on the basis of a political calculation.

Is this just labor slapping Obama on the wrist to placate their members? It’s hard to see unions, even pro-Keystone XL ones, actually turning their backs on Obama during the election. But maybe they feel they can’t trust him to take their side on the pipeline even if he does win a second term.

Not all labor groups are in favor of Keystone. The major transit workers groups strongly oppose it. But the Laborers’ International Union of North America is strong enough on its own to really cause problems for Obama if it so chooses. In 2008, the LIUNA endorsed Obama and threw a lot of muscle – 500,000 members and a $15 million election budget – behind his campaign. Even if LIUNA doesn’t come out in support of the Republican candidate in 2012, it can do enough damage to Obama by simply withholding money and ground troops.