ORGANIZED labor, once the backbone of the Democratic coalition,
did not especially want a "different kind of Democrat," as
President-elect Clinton has styled himself.
Observing his administration form, labor leaders seem to have
the overwhelming relief of watching the thaw of an ice age for
labor's interests and a gnawing uncertainty about how warm it will
When two top economic posts in the Clinton administration went
to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas as treasury secretary and Rep.
Leon Panetta (D) of California as director of the Office of
Management and Budget, many labor advocates were disappointed.
But when Robert Reich of Harvard University was named labor
secretary, the gloom lifted.
"It's been 12 bad years," says Douglas Fraser, a former United
Auto Workers president who teaches at Wayne State University. Union
officials are relieved, he says, to have a labor secretary
nominated who is familiar with organized labor.
Mr. Reich says things unions like to hear about work and
national investment, but he seldom mentions unions. In his book,
"The Work of Nations," he writes about them on five pages without
saying what role they should have in a revitalized economy.
But because Reich is a friend and close adviser to Clinton, some
labor officials see his appointment as elevating the job from a
second-tier post to a central one. "He's not only smart and
innovative, but he can talk to the president," says Ray Abernathy,
a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union.
"It's been a long time since we had a friend in the Labor
Department," says Dave Stack, spokesman for the International
Association of Machinists.
"The starting point is that labor has suffered through, not just
an unfriendly administration, but a hostile administration," Mr.
Fraser says. Even labor secretaries who sympathized on some labor
issues, he says, were struck down by White House officials.
Labor leaders confident
Union leaders are confident that the balance of power between
labor and management will shift in their direction. They already
consider a new law banning the permanent replacement of striking
workers to be a done deal. The law has support in Congress, and Mr.
Clinton has promised to sign it.
The question of whether companies could permanently replace
strikers was not a prominent one until President Reagan made an
example of the air traffic controllers' union, breaking it by
hiring and training new controllers. …