WASHINGTON The leader of the largest labor group called on President Barack Obama on Wednesday to offer an ambitious jobs program and said unions would be judging his plan as they decide where to throw their support as he runs for re-election in 2012.
"This is a time for boldness. And this is a moment that working people will judge all our leaders. Will they propose solutions that are on the scale necessary to address the job crisis that America has right now?" said Richard Trumka, president of the 12-million-member AFL-CIO.
Shortly before the labor federation's annual pre-Labor Day news conference, Obama asked for a joint session of Congress on September 7 to unveil his long-awaited jobs program, a high-profile and politically provocative venue.
Unions have traditionally been big supporters of Democratic politicians, including Obama, with major donations and by providing volunteers to campaign for politicians and get voters to the polls on Election Day.
Trumka, who has expressed frustration with the Democratic president over economic issues, warned that union support could be hit by the weak economy. The U.S. unemployment rate has been stuck at about 9 percent for months.
"If the economy is down it is going to be more difficult to educate and motivate and mobilize people," he said.
Seeking to lessen its reliance on the Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO has launched its own Super PAC, a political action committee which, thanks to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, can accept donations with virtually no limits from individuals, corporations and other unions.
A labor source noted that unions have already cut back on donations to candidates and party groups this year.
Trumka said the purpose of the PAC is to advocate year-round, not just in connection with elections, and reach workers who are not in unions.
But he made clear the union was ready to do what it could for Obama, if he did more on jobs. He said Republicans valued defeating Democrats more than the good of the country.
"He's (Obama) going to, I think, do everything he can to create jobs on the scale that we need it. We'll see if there's any kind of bipartisanship."
Trumka appeared with Obama at the White House earlier on Wednesday to urge Congress to quickly pass temporary funding bills for aviation and highway projects.
The AFL-CIO also presented on Wednesday its own jobs plan, which included more infrastructure spending, funding to stop layoffs of government workers, extending unemployment benefits and Wall Street reform.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)