Filed at 9:57 p.m. ET
CORONADO, Calif. (AP) -- The AFL-CIO, invigorated by a new alliance with the nation's largest teachers union, said Monday that it would spend $40 million this year to elect labor-friendly candidates.
That would be a dramatic expansion of political spending despite well-publicized divisions in organized labor.
The AFL-CIO's 2006 campaign warchest easily surpasses the $34 million that it spent in 2002, the last midterm election.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called it ''the largest and most aggressive grassroots mobilization in a midterm election in our history.''
The federation is targeting 21 battleground states, including California, Ohio, Illinois, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota.
The announcement of the political plans came the same day that the AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 50 unions representing about 9 million workers, announced a partnership with the nation's largest teacher's union, the National Education Association. The 2.8-million-member NEA agreed to allow its local affiliates to join the AFL-CIO, though the national union does not plan to join the federation at this point.
The increased political spending comes as the AFL-CIO prepares for its first election cycle since about a half-dozen unions split from the federation, complaining that it emphasized political campaigns over organizing membership. The AFL-CIO lost more than a fourth of its members in the rift that began in July 2005. The Service Employees International Union, Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are among the largest of the unions that left the AFL-CIO.
The federation aims to boost union turnout to the high levels achieved in 21 battleground states during the 2004 presidential election, said Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO's political director. Turnout is typically lower in midterm elections than in presidential years.
The political plan, combined with the NEA announcement, were signs the AFL-CIO is planning to make an aggressive comeback after months of defections and discouragement.
NEA President Reg Weaver said at the winter meeting of the federation's executive council in Coronado, outside San Diego that allowing the NEA's 13,200 affiliates to join the AFL-CIO is ''absolutely not'' a prelude to a merger of the NEA and AFL-CIO on the national level.
Weaver declined to predict how many NEA affiliates would join the labor federation under the agreement, which expires in 2009. The NEA partnership won the blessing of the 1.3-million-member American Federation of Teachers, which has long been part of the AFL-CIO and had an occasionally tense relationship with the NEA.
Long-declining union membership leveled off last year at 12.5 percent of the work force, according to the Labor Department and is even lower among workers in private industry.
Associated Press Writer Will Lester contributed to this report from Washington.