Unions Benefit from President's Early Decisions; Obama Enacts Labor-Friendly Policies, Waits on Card Check

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

Unions Benefit from President's Early Decisions; Obama Enacts Labor-Friendly Policies, Waits on Card Check


Byline: S.A. Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama has moved quickly to demonstrate his solidarity with the labor movement, making a series of policy and personnel moves dramatically reshaping the landscape to give unions a better foothold.

Even though labor's top legislative priority - the so-called card-check bill to make it easier to organize workplaces - has stalled on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama has made up for it in a number of ways, often breaking sharply with policies instituted during the Bush administration.

One of Mr. Obama's first acts the day he was inaugurated was to elevate National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member Wilma B. Liebman, a former International Brotherhood of Teamsters lawyer, to chair the board.

The president has since appointed a succession of union loyalists to top spots in the Labor Department and on the NLRB. He signed four pro-union executive orders, most notably one requiring federal construction projects to favor project labor agreements that set aside jobs for union workers.

Last month, Mr. Obama appointed Service Employees International Union (SEIU) lawyer Craig Becker and pro-union labor lawyer Mark Gaston Pearce to fill vacancies on the five-member NLRB, which oversees laws governing relations between unions and employers. The AFL-CIO and other top labor groups complained that the NLRB under Mr. Bush had become toothless.

Mr. Obama also tapped as a top Labor Department adviser Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of the American Rights at Work, a union-backed public-relations campaign that advocates for labor issues, including passage of the card-check bill.

Some of the new clout for unions comes from Mr. Obama's executive orders that reversed rules issued by the Bush administration.

Mr. Obama approved a rule requiring federal contractors to post notices that workers have the right to form a union and a second rule that bars contractors from seeking reimbursement from the government for expenses incurred in lobbying employees not to unionize.

A third executive order rescinded a Bush administration rule requiring federal contractors to post notices that workers can limit their financial support to unions.

It's a symbiotic relationship. As Mr. Obama strives to expand union power in the marketplace, unions build support for the president's agenda, including an overhaul of the nation's health care system.

President Obama has made it clear from Day One that we will not be able to rebuild our economy stronger than it was without a greater voice, and greater prosperity, for American workers, said SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, marking the president's 100th day in office last week.

The first bill Mr. Obama signed was a union-backed measure that makes it easier for workers to sue employers for wage discrimination. He also signed a bill that nixed a pilot program opposed by the Teamsters that allowed Mexican trucks into the United States for cross-border commerce, despite complaints that the restriction violated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Mr. Obama's labor secretary, longtime union ally and former California Rep. Hilda Solis, is the daughter of a Teamsters shop steward. …

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