MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- Hedging its political bets, the powerful California AFL-CIO voted yesterday to endorse Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante for governor in case Gov. Gray Davis is ousted in the Oct. 7 recall election.
The move was a significant strategic shift for the union, which had led opposition to the recall and urged Bustamante and other Democrats to stay off the ballot.
But labor leaders said embracing the strategy was the best way to help the Democratic governor survive -- not an indication that they feared he would lose.
"It's a very tactical decision coming out here pretty united with the message, 'no on recall, no on recall, no on recall and yes on Bustamante,'" Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said after the unanimous vote by about 600 delegates.
The union was the latest key Democratic group to throw its weight behind Bustamante's two-pronged approach to the recall.
The state's teachers union has also backed the strategy, as have California's Democratic congressional delegation and Democrats in the state Senate.
Davis himself has also begun to move closer to the strategy, though so far without wholeheartedly endorsing his lieutenant governor, with whom he has an icy relationship.
But Davis has said Bustamante's entry into the race could bring out more voters who would vote against recalling the governor while supporting the lieutenant governor's candidacy.
Davis visited the union meeting soon after the vote was announced and thanked delegates who crowded a hotel meeting room waving anti-recall signs and chanting "No recall! No recall!"
"I'm proud to stand with them, and with their help we'll stand together for the next 3 1/2 years," he said.
Davis' anti-recall spokesman, Peter Ragone, presented the labor group's decision in a positive light.
"Their support is crucial because it reflects the conviction of working people in California," he said. Bustamante also welcomed the move.
"I'm pleased that the Democratic family is coming together to embrace the idea that voting no is not enough. If as Democrats we want to protect good-paying jobs, a woman's right to choose, the air we breathe and the water we drink, it's important that Democratic voters vote for a Democratic governor," the lieutenant governor told the Associated Press.
The state AFL-CIO, an association of more than 1,300 union locals representing about 2.1 million workers in manufacturing, construction and other industries, has been especially close to Davis, even co-sponsoring his inaugural festivities last year.
Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said the group will spend $5 million on the campaign.
Pulaski indicated one strategy that labor would use to energize Hispanics and others when he held up a photo of Republican front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger hugging former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
Wilson is Schwarzenegger's campaign co-chairman and a polarizing figure among Hispanics because of his support of anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, which Schwarzenegger also backed.