Is Obama committed to fighting for unions?

Barack Obama promised during his presidential campaign to “finally make the Employee Free Choice Act the law of the land.”

So why did I read this in today’s Washington Post?

The president-elect also gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses. And while many Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to see a quick vote on that bill, he indicated no desire to rush into the contentious issue.

“If we’re losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize, so my focus first is on those key economic priority items I just mentioned,” he said. “Let’s see what the legislative docket looks like.”

Marc Ambinder has the exact wording of Obama’s answer, which the Washington Post paraphrased.

A lot of labor unions backed Obama during the primaries, and even more backed him during the general election campaign. Unions were there for Obama when he needed them. Now, they need him to follow through on his promise.

This diary by TomP lays out the very strong case for passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Why do we need to dance around looking for some way to help unions without angering businesses? Obama won the election and has high approval ratings. Democrats enlarged their Congressional majorities. Now is the time for the president to spend his political capital on getting good laws through Congress.

Setting the policy merits aside for the moment, this is a poor negotiating strategy.

By announcing before taking office that his goal is to help unions without arousing intense opposition from businesses, Obama has just given the business lobby every incentive to raise hell about even the most innocuous bill to support workers’ rights.

He should not have telegraphed that he is willing to sacrifice the Employee Free Choice Act if necessary. You never announce before negotiations begin what concessions you are willing to make. (For more on Obama’s negotiating strategy so far, read this diary by bruh3.)

In any event, there isn’t going to be some magical bill that would make it significantly easier for workers to organize, but which the business lobby would take in stride. They will fight every bill perceived as pro-labor, and they will claim that it will cost jobs, just like they fought any number of good laws, from minimum wage increases to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Here’s hoping that incoming Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (a passionate supporter of the EFCA) will be able to strengthen Obama’s resolve to fight for this bill.

By the way, American Rights at Work just launched a major tv advertising campaign in support of the EFCA and has a petition you can sign if you care about this issue.

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