Josh Eidelson has an interesting interview with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka about the aftermath of the election. Labor did pretty well in the election, outside of the failed Michigan referendum to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. The question is whether it will mean anything in the long run. Will Obama take labor seriously in his second term? In my mind, there’s a difference between thinking about labor as a constituency and centering it in the administration. Will the Secretary of Labor be at the table for all discussions of economic issues, including taxes, debt ceilings, entitlements, and broad economic policy? Hilda Solis certainly was not brought into the inner sanctum of economic policy in Obama’s first term.
Of course, relying on politicians isn’t a winning strategy for organized labor. Organizing has to be the engine that drives a better future for American labor. This is still a contentious issue within the AFL-CIO, with some internationals doing a great job and others doing a terrible job.
On the other hand, as Eidelson points out, there’s a lot more Obama could do right now:
Meanwhile, there’s plenty the Obama administration could do – and so far hasn’t – without Congress. With an executive order, the president could change federal contracting to exclude more union-busting companies. With regulations, his Labor Department could restrict the use of dangerous equipment by teenagers working on factory farms, or extend basic overtime protections to domestic workers.
Trumka called for swift action on a long-delayed OSHA regulation regarding silica dust. Asked how quickly it should move, Trumka answered, “Last year.” As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks currently underway, Trumka said, “They have to make sure they negotiate a deal that actually helps in-sourcing rather than promotes outsourcing. That’s a position that he stood for throughout this election, and I feel confident that he will follow through on that.”
Given the unlikelihood of Employee Free Choice Act passing, what labor needs to demand from Obama is real change on the executive level as laid out above. Everyone interested in labor will be watching to see if Obama pays labor off for its vital help in his reelection campaign.