Monday, March 1, 2010

Labor wonders where all its friends went

These days, organized labor might be forgiven for thinking of Ernie Ford whenever they think of their Democratic allies in Congress.

Or should that be “allies?” Probably, at least from the perspective of organized labor, who shelled out over $400 million in the last election cycle, helping Democrats to roll to a huge majority in both houses of Congress and, of course, to elect Barack Obama to the Presidency.

And what did all those dollars get? So far, it appears to have gotten labor a whole lot of nothing. Congress and the Obama administration didn’t make the Employee Free Choice Act – one of labor’s biggest wants – a priority and now, with the loss of the supermajority, that ship appears to have sailed. The President has failed to push through the nomination of long-time labor attorney Craig Becker to the NLRB. And, while muddling their way through the health care debate, the Democrats found time to consider an excise tax that unions feared would disproportionately affect union members.

All of which brings to mind Ford’s lyric, “You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.”

But, as the AFL-CIO begins its annual meeting on Monday, March 1st, it’s not all gloom. The Administration has offered hints of a more pro-labor agenda.

In the Obama Administration’s Middle Class Task Force report, issued on February 26, the White House declared its commitment to passing EFCA, calling it a crucial component of providing good, quality jobs. The Administration has relented on its plan for the excise tax, pushing consideration of the tax until 2018. And the Administration has made it more-or-less official policy to encourage executive agencies to enter into Project Labor Agreements, which allow unions to set the terms and conditions of employment on construction sites.

So, with the midterm elections in sight and given the inconsistent support from their Congressional allies, where does Labor go from here?

Some have suggested that Labor needs to have its own agenda and that relying on the Democrats to advance their goals has been fruitless at best. Others suggest that its time for Labor to direct their muscle at faltering Dems, like Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, who opposed Becker’s nomination and EFCA.
The meetings will likely shed some light on Labor’s direction. But with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka stating that “enough is enough,” and demanding that the Democrats stand up to Republicans, no one should be surprised if Labor decides to bite back at their political "allies."

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