Labor delivered for the Prez, but will he support unions and their members?

From the American Federation of Teachers

Organized labor went all out for the President this year, as this info graphic suggests. Especially in the battleground states, unions gave the maximum effort to help push Mr. Obama over the top. The Daily Labor Report (subscription only) provides details:

The margin by which union members voted for President Obama was decisive in his re-election in a number of battleground states including Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said today.

During a press conference at AFL-CIO headquarters to unveil an election-night survey conducted for the federation, Trumka said 65 percent of union members nationwide voted for Obama. In Ohio 70 percent of union members voted for the president, he said, adding this was in a state where “our membership is 83 percent white, 40 percent Evangelical, and 53 percent gun owners.”

…The survey, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates, also showed that among members of the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America, 66 percent favored Obama nationally and 69 percent in Ohio, where one of every 10 voters is a member of Working America, Trumka said. He added that Working America members are largely “working-class moderates.”

In my last post, I summarized several blog pieces by three knowledgeable employment law experts, all forecasting that federal labor & employment policy is unlikely change significantly under the second Obama Administration. While I tend to agree, for the sake of American workers, I hope we’re wrong.

The past four years

While the pro-union shifts of the National Labor Relations Board have been welcomed, the Obama Administration has been more hope than reality to organized labor.

When the President had huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate during the first two years of his term, he failed to move on the most important piece of pro-labor legislation to the labor movement, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would’ve facilitated the process of union organizing and selection.

In very prominent state-level battles that found public employees fighting for their lives, such as what transpired in Wisconsin in 2011, the President was largely AWOL.

And during the three televised debates with Mitt Romney, I listened in vain for anything from the President resembling an endorsement of unions as part of the solution toward safeguarding America’s workers.

We need unions

At the risk of repeating myself: Unions remain the most important mechanism we have for providing good wages, benefits, and working conditions to rank-and-file workers. Unions typically deliver a significant wage advantage to their members compared to their non-union counterparts. The collective bargaining agreements they negotiate protect their members from unfair termination and discipline. They offer workers a legally-protected voice to bring their concerns to company management.

In making this case, I’m not suggesting that all unions are terrific. In fact, some are downright awful. But many unions deliver for their members and serve as valuable points of communication with employers. We cannot afford to lose organized labor as a voice for workers. It’s no mere coincidence that declining union membership and America’s widening wealth gap have gone hand-in-hand.

Second term

So what can the President do? Strong support for pro-labor policy measures would be great. And if we can finally bring ourselves to understand the need to rebuild the nation’s crumbling bridges, tunnels, and roads and to protect our coastal towns and cities from storms like Sandy and Katrina, we can fund public works programs that create good jobs at decent union wages.

Equally important, Mr. Obama can use his Presidency as a bully pulpit to remind America of the value of organized labor. The most prosperous period in American history — 1950s and 1960s — just happened to occur when business, government, and labor all had a seat at the table. Too often that isn’t the case anymore, and this President has an opportunity to change that.


For a summary of the Hart Research Associates survey mentioned above, go here.

Hat tip to Bob Lucore for the AFT info graphic and link to the Hart presentation.

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