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Friday, December 08, 2006

Unions Look to Democrats for Revival

Labor unions are moving into high gear for the upcoming legislative session:

Labor to Push Agenda in Congress It Helped Elect, by Dale Russakoff, Washington Post: ...The labor movement, despite being more divided and depleted than it has been in decades, produced record participation in the 2006 campaign, contacting 13.4 million voters in 32 battleground states and supplying 187,000 volunteers to help Democrats match the GOP's get-out-the-vote machine, which was far better financed.

"What got us over the hump was a common enemy -- everyone was desperate to stop Bush," said Jeff Crosby, the AFL-CIO president in Lynn, Mass., ... "He was the uniter."

As the AFL-CIO gathers in Washington today for a post-election organizing summit, the labor movement is assured of a seat at the table in the new Democrat-controlled Congress, and it has an ambitious agenda: raising the minimum wage, restricting trade agreements, beefing up worker health and safety protections and rewriting the National Labor Relations Act to make it easier to organize unions.

Leaders across the movement have closed ranks behind House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi's 100-hour agenda, which includes increasing the minimum wage..., cutting the interest rate on student loans, repealing oil company tax breaks and opening the way for Medicare to negotiate prices of prescription drugs.

"We all agreed this is a major down payment on a populist agenda," said Charles M. Loveless, legislative lobbyist for AFSCME, the largest union in the AFL-CIO. "We will all be heavily involved..."

Unions won pledges from almost all Democrats to support the Employee Free Choice Act, under which companies would have to recognize unions once a majority of workers sign cards saying they want to organize.

Business groups, headed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are making defeat of the measure a top priority...

"The Employee Free Choice Act is the most important work we'll be doing, because it's a key to succeeding on everything else," AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said in an interview. He said the AFL-CIO will use its post-election summit in part to stress to members that the measure is essential to rebuilding labor's numbers. Unions now represent less than 8 percent of American workers in the private sector, 12 percent overall. ...

The measure is considered unlikely to pass because it would need 60 votes to survive a filibuster in the Senate, where Democrats have only a 51 to 49 edge. Even then, it would face a likely veto by President Bush. Opponents in the business community nonetheless are taking seriously the threat posed by a pro-labor Democratic Congress and an electorate that named economic anxiety among its top concerns in Election Day exit polls. ...

Sweeney said the AFL-CIO is talking with Change to Win about coordinating their campaigns for the organizing measure. The two labor federations -- still bitterly divided at the top -- are coordinating on trade, the minimum wage and Pelosi's agenda for the first 100 hours.

On immigration, however, a split looms. The SEIU is aggressively organizing low-wage janitors whose ranks are heavily immigrant and undocumented. Thus, it supports the immigration bill sponsored by Kennedy and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would create an expansive guest-worker program for immigrants. The AFL-CIO and several other Change to Win unions view temporary workers as ripe for exploitation -- and also a threat to jobs and higher wages.

"Traditionally, labor has been monolithic in that the AFL-CIO set the agenda," said Randel Johnson, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, which supports the immigration bill. "Now there are two camps in town, and we will be talking to everyone. Will that bear fruit? Certainly on immigration, it will."

As noted, in all likelihood much of the populist legislation will not get through congress and would be vetoed if it did. In that case, does pushing hard for the legislation further the Democrat's political agenda? Quick thoughts: Don't try to do too much. Stick to consensus issues for the first year. Save legislation that will certainly be vetoed, but has high political value, for the second year.

    Posted by on Friday, December 8, 2006 at 12:12 AM in Economics, Policy, Politics, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (2)

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