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Taken For Granted


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.

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  • Joseph Slater

    Obama will do some significant good for labor by appointing the types of people he appointed in his first term to the NLRB. Those folks did some very good work in undoing some/most of the damage to private sector labor law that the Bush II NLRB did, and made some good new law/rules. Also, Obama has some really good people in the Labor Department.

    I’m not sanguine about executive orders excluding union-busting firms, however. The D.C. Circuit has already held that such an e.o (under Clinton) was pre-empted by the NLRB.

    Back on the bright side, while Michigan failed to enshrine the right to bargain collectively into the state constitution, voters did reject the “emergency manager” bill that was being used as a hammer against public sector unions. Further, several states rejected anti-public-sector-union proposals in Tuesday’s election, which I hope signals the end of that era.

    • rea

      while Michigan failed to enshrine the right to bargain collectively into the state constitution

      It’s also noteworthy that our Republican governor has made it clear he wants no part of any attempt by the Republicans in the legislature to pass a “right to work” law.

      • Fake Irishman

        I’m still nervous about Right-to-Work, very nervous. But the Dems did pick up five seats in the House. And our governor has pulled the teeth on some of the worst legislation with his veto pen — like a voter suppression bill. He’s also issued veto threats on the worst of the anti-choice legislation that the knuckle-draggers in our state leg have concocted.

      • Linnaeus

        Good for him, though I wonder if he’ll pull a Mitch Daniels and sign a right-to-work bill after saying he didn’t want one.

        • NonyNony

          I wonder if he did sign one if there would be a second push for a Constitutional amendment to the right to collectively bargain to overturn it.

          I’m thinking a lot of people voting against it were of the “it won’t happen to me and I’m scared of bad teachers never getting fired” camp. If they get threatened by it, I wonder if they would change their minds.

          • Fake Irishman

            Maybe not a constitutional amendment but a simple citizens’ veto — which is what sent Senate bill 5 down in Ohio. Labor has just been on the defensive so long here that we’re trying to figure out how to go on the offensive again. Prop 2’s campaign showed some of the bugs — the key for us is to keep working together.

            • CaptBackslap

              The Prop 2 campaign also got dragged down by the raft of goofy initiatives that accompanied it on the ballot, which (along with ads urging people to “keep special interests from cluttering up our constitution”) had the effect of encouraging blanket rejection.

              Also, the opponents of 2 in particular showed a capacity for mendacity that makes Karl Rove look like Lincoln by comparison.

        • Fake Irishman

          One reason I think he might not is that Daniels only signed that law after the GOP made major gains in the legislature in 2010 — in 2012, the GOP had the size of its majority cut in half in Michigan (and only aggressive gerrymandering kept the losses that low). Also, the GOP speaker of the house here barely survived his own re-election and is about to encounter some serious legal trouble.

        • witless chum

          I don’t think Snyder is exactly anti-Right to Work, but he clearly doesn’t have it at the top of his agenda. This state has been gerrymandered as right as you can gerrymander it, though, so I wouldn’t rule out him signing one after he gets his second term.

          But there’s all sorts of conspiracy theories that he’s going to bargain with the state dems where they’ll run a sacrficial lamb of a candidate and basically give him a second term in exchange for him agreeing to veto if a bill is forthcoming.

      • CaptBackslap

        If the GOP primary electorate decides it wants to win more than it wants to don animal skins and light the ancient fires, Snyder could be a strong choice. If we were going to get a GOP governor here, we did about as well as possible at this point.

        That said, I’d put my money on the animal skins.

        • rea

          Snyder, like Christie, seems awfully reasonable for a Republican in the present environment–but that does not make him all that reasonable.

          • CaptBackslap

            I don’t love a lot of his policy preferences, but he’s actually a competent governor. After twelve years of vandalism and eight more of bumbling, it’s a welcome change.

  • FlipYrWhig

    In my mind, there’s a difference between thinking about labor as a constituency and centering it in the administration.

    I think this is an excellent distinction to make. What do you/we know about the degree of input Solis has had on economic policymaking across the board?

    • My understanding is almost none. When Obama put together his meeting of the minds to develop economic policy at the beginning of the first term, neither Solis nor any representative of labor was included. Geithner, Summers, and the like were in complete control.

    • Bruce Vail

      I think Erik is right that the answer is “almost none.”

      Contrary to a lot of public comment at the time, the appointment of Solis was a bad sign for labor. An obscure Congressional backbencher, she didn’t have the administrative experience to tackle a much-needed overhaul at DoL, or have the political juice to be a layer at the White House.

      Consequently the only time we hear from her is when the White House wants to parade their token hispanic lady for the cameras. Sad.

    • FlipYrWhig

      Any mention of Solis in the Grunwald _New New Deal_ book? Now I’m curious about how you can develop a “green jobs” strategy without incorporating the input of the Labor Department.

  • Bruce Vail

    Sad to say, but there is little incentive for Obama to reward labor in some way during his second term.

    At his late date it occurs to me that Obama has at least one thing in common with Bill Clinton. Both are Ivy Leaguers who have been taught that labor unions are an artifact of the past. Both are uncomfortable around labor people and don’t really understand what labor is about. Neither sees labor as playing any important role in their ideas for the future.

    I hope I am wrong about this.

  • Bruce Vail
  • Anonymous

    The stuff you’ve mentioned is nibbling around the edges. The key pro-labor move is to avoid a grand bargain which raises the retirement age or otherwise hacks at social security benefits. I caanot emphsize enough just how much this is a central labor issue. There are other things we unionists want on the jobs and other fronts as well. He also has to avoid appointing assholes like Bowles or, god forbid, Michelle Rhee, to cabinet positions. Labor’s biggest issues are workers’s biggest issues.

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