11/16/08

Obama Labor Agenda Transcends Card-Check

Promises to keep

A lot of business people are more than willing to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt. Obama, while he’s certain to shift the direction of the economy toward more regulation and government intervention, has made a point to trying to reach out to businessmen.

The president-elect also has shown that he is more than willing to listen to different points of views and will to have his mind changed on key points. In addition, last time I looked there was still a lot of business being done in Barack Obama’s hometown of Chicago, and the business community in the Windy City doesn’t seem to have had a lot of complaints about Obama.

However, the one issue that scares businesses of all sizes about Obama is his close ties to labor unions.

Indeed, ever since Obama secured the Democratic nomination, the expectation has grown among union’s such as the United Auto Workers, the United Steel Workers and the Teamsters that Obama was prepared to tackle organized unions’ most pressing concerns.

On his campaign Web site, Obama openly embraced the card check legislation, which is supposed to make it easier for workers to organize unions.

“Obama and (Vice President-elect Joe) Biden believe that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Obama co-sponsored and is a strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize. He will continue to fight for EFCA’s passage and sign it into law,” according to the site.

Obama also is calling for new legislation banning the use of permanent replacements for striking workers. A ban on replacement workers would be as, or if not more, controversial than card check because it would effectively neutralize most employers’ ability to block potentially crippling strikes.

Most employers try to be fair with their employees’ unions, figuring the bill for strife is usually the same or higher than meeting contract demands.

However, as in the case of card check, which allows unions to organize workers into a union without an on-site vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, a number of employers have preferred confrontation.

Card check and striker replacement legislation are basically efforts by the AFL-CIO and other unions to punish employers for abusing the existing system.

The unions also might even ask for bolder legislation that would prohibit employers from bringing in outside consultants to organize anti-union campaigns.

Obama’s agenda, however, is even broader than card check and striker replacement.

“Obama has fought the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) efforts to strip workers of their right to organize. He is a cosponsor of legislation to overturn the NLRB’s “Kentucky River” decisions classifying hundreds of thousands of nurses, construction, and professional workers as “supervisors who are not protected by federal labor laws,” stated the Obama Web site.

Obama also promised during the campaign to raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers earn a living wage that allows them to raise families and pay for basic needs.

All in all, that’s a pretty daunting agenda to get around a potential filibuster by Senate Republicans, who are still led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — a longtime and vociferous foe of unions. Plus, there are Democrats from Southern states who probably aren’t big fans of labor law reform.

The conservative media such as talk radio has already come out against the union agenda.

In addition, while they have enormous expectations, the unions themselves haven’t exactly made an effective case for labor law reform in the court of public opinion.

Organized labor’s ability to reach out to broader public also has atrophied over the past two decades. The lack of effective public outreach and communications strategy has actually undermined union members around Detroit and elsewhere caught up in the sweeping economic changes.

The coming fight over labor reform, along with the bailout of Michigan’s auto industry, could wind up defining Obama’s opening act as president.

- Joseph Szczesny

(theoaklandpress.com)

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