Neville Island, Pa. President Bush, hoping to drive a wedge between Democrats and their big labor base, pledged Monday to fight recession and terrorism on behalf of American workers.
"Congress needs to get moving," Bush said during a Labor Day address, urging lawmakers to stop blocking his efforts.
He demanded action on his terrorism insurance, energy, retirement protection and tax-cutting policies, saying Americans are hurting more than economic indicators suggest.
"I know the statistics and all that business, but what I worry about is when I hear stories about people who can't find work," Bush said.
Since the 2000 campaign, the president and his advisers have tried to siphon money and votes from organized labor, the cornerstone of the Democratic Party's base.
Though he has not made huge gains overall, Bush has managed to cultivate relationships with two labor leaders: James P. Hoffa of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Douglas J. McCarron of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.
Both labor leaders are rivals of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, who leads the federation of 66 international union affiliates.
"When you look at rank-and-file union workers, there is increasing support for President George W. Bush," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "They are not in lockstep with some of these older-line liberal labor leaders. There's splits in the labor movement."
Trying to show empathy with the working man, Bush helped several carpenters-in-training practice building a house.
He grabbed hold of a power miter saw and quickly cut four blocks away from two-by-fours. Chuckling, the president held his hand down toward the floor, his fingers gripped in his fist, and pretended to be missing all 10 of his digits.
Bush and unions have worked together to push his energy plan, which includes opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and imposing new tariffs to help protect the ailing U.S. steel industry.
Still, some Bush policies rankle even Teamsters leaders, including the killing of ergonomics workplace rules, the opening of the U.S. border to Mexican trucks and the renewal of fast-track legislation that did not include labor-backed wage and safety provisions.
Labor groups are key donors and organizers for Democrats, who cling to a one-seat majority in the Senate and are a handful of seats away from controlling the House. Thirty-six governorships also are at stake in the November elections.
Unions and their members gave $90 million in donations in the 2000 election cycle, of which 94 percent went to Democrats. Unions made up 11 of the 20 largest political action committee contributors to federal candidates that year.
But Republicans are trying to reach out to skilled-trades unions, which tend to be more conservative politically.
The carpenters union visited by Bush broke away last year from the AFL-CIO, a major Democratic Party ally. The union, with more than 300,000 members, left because it wanted the labor federation to put more financial emphasis on organizing instead of politics.