CHICAGO (AP) - The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of labor unions, will not immediately endorse any of the Democratic presidential candidates in next year's primary, The Associated Press learned Wednesday.
The decision means that the AFL-CIO's 55 unions - representing some 10 million workers - are free to endorse whoever they want. Several unions already have made plans to endorse one of the eight Democratic candidates after Labor Day.
"It is clear that a number of the Democratic candidates have the experience and the credentials to lead our nation," a statement from the federation's executive council said. "And it is equally clear that our members support a number of the candidates - union members have told us all the candidates are impressive and they are eager to support many of them. For this reason, the AFL-CIO has decided not to proceed with a decision process that would lead to support for a single candidate at this time."
Draft copies of the statement were provided to The Associated Press. The council plans a vote and a formal announcement later in the day.
"At a later date, the executive council will decide if the AFL-CIO should endorse a candidate for president," the statement said.
Many expected this decision following Tuesday night's presidential forum at Chicago's Soldier Field. Seven of the eight Democratic candidates appeared, and all seemed to have some support in the 17,000-person crowd made up of union members and their families.
The AFL-CIO didn't endorse a candidate in the 2004 primary. Its rules say two-thirds of the AFL-CIO's individual unions must agree on a candidate before an endorsement, and that didn't happen.
The last two AFL-CIO primary endorsements went to former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and Walter Mondale in 1984.
Although union membership has declined over the years, the AFL-CIO remains a political force.
The AFL-CIO said in 2006 that it knocked on 8.25 million doors for union candidates, made 30 million telephone calls, distributed 14 million fliers and sent out 20 million pieces of mail.
In the 2004 elections, organized labor also gave $53.6 million to Democratic candidates and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That number increased to $66 million for the 2006 elections and is expected to increase again for 2008.