Labor: Tax the rich, don't touch safety nets

Associated Press Modified: November 10, 2012 at 3:17 am •  Published: November 10, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — After two years of getting pummeled in Wisconsin, Indiana and other battleground states, leaders of the nation's big labor unions were beaming on election night.

Labor's massive voter turnout effort played a major role in helping President Barack Obama win Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin, according to exit polls, and its leaders are now looking for a more liberal, pro-union agenda from the White House.

"There are things the president can do, and we'll be expecting that leadership from President Obama," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters after the election.

Topping labor's wish list — for now — is a push to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and discouraging Obama from agreeing to any deal with Republicans over the looming "fiscal cliff" that cuts into Social Security and Medicare.

But unions are also pressing for new measures that might help boost their sagging membership rolls. New investment in infrastructure would bring construction jobs for trade unions. Immigration reform — and a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Latino immigrants — would create a vast new pool of potential union members. And new regulations could remove some obstacles to union organizing.

Business groups that have vigorously opposed efforts to help unions draw new members say they will keep playing defense.

"My primary concern is in the regulations," said Randel Johnson, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for labor issues. "We are afraid that on employment issues, the administration will stay firmly to the left and follow the lead of the unions."

A new rule expected from the Labor Department would force companies to reveal relationships with so-called union-busting consulting companies even if the companies have no contact with workers. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to start work on a rule that would force businesses to turn over workers' phone numbers, emails and shift times to union organizers.

The Obama administration might even consider a plan that would give an advantage in bidding on government contracts to companies that offer workers a higher living wage and generous benefits.

Unlike four years ago, unions have not made passage of card-check legislation a centerpiece of their agenda. The long-stalled measure that would require companies to recognize a union once more than half its eligible employees signed union cards instead of putting the question to a secret-ballot vote went nowhere in Obama' first term, to the chagrin of many union activists.

Card check remains a dead end with Republicans in firm control of the House. Amy Dean, a former head of the AFL-CIO in California's Silicon Valley, said unions are being more realistic about what they can get.

"They are all about strengthening the right to organize within the confines of what's politically possible," Dean said.



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