Union Organizers Give Obama Administration Mixed Marks; Frustration Growing
Peter Wallsten of the Washington Postwrites of Obama's tense relationship with the labor unions that did so much to get him elected in 2008.
President Obama did everything this week that a loyal member of the labor movement could hope for: He quickly leapt to the defense of Wisconsin public-employee unions in their battle for bargaining rights, while his political operation worked to instigate additional demonstrations against Republican governors in other states.
But as Obama's actions were celebrated in one part of the country, he was being picketed - again - in another. On Friday, he was greeted at a factory tour in Oregon by about three dozen high-tech workers who accused the president of pushing trade policies that would ship their jobs overseas.
Two years into a presidency that carried immense promises for the labor movement, this is how it has gone for Obama. Some unions remain firmly by his side, while others think he has reneged on promises or - as he seeks to mend relationships with business leaders - abandoned them altogether.
"He's basically trying to be everything to everybody," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a nursing union that claims 160,000 members and is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. "Until you look at the policies, and then it's clear he's there for the corporate sector."
He has satisfied labor on some fronts. In 2009, he imposed a tariff on Chinese-made tires, winning praise from the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers in U.S. tire plants. And his renegotiation of the South Korea deal scored popular concessions.
Now, many union leaders are bristling at White House efforts to reset its relationship with corporate America. Unions were opposed to the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy in the December deal Obama struck with Republicans. Some have criticized his call for a review of regulations, including the temporary withdrawal last month of one proposed rule governing how companies report certain worker joint and muscle sprains. And most unions oppose the South Korea deal.
The report discusses the relationship between the administration and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and mentions various unions' reactions to Obama's attempt to "mend the fences" with corporate America.
But Wallsten's report is quite light on the substance, failing to even mention either the best or the worst moves the administration has made as far as labor is concerned.
He doesn't mention the Democrats' capitulation on the Employee Free Choice Act, which candidate Obama repeatedly vowed to get behind with gusto but about which president Obama has largely been quiet. Mike Elk called itObama's "political suicide" with American workers.
Wallsten also omits any reference to the National Labor Relations Board, which ultimately has a far greater impact on the labor movement than the White House's rhetoric about regulating businesses. The NLRB had been packed with right-wingers, then the 5-member panel had been saddled with 3 vacancies, and was by and large unable to function. To his credit, Obama, ignoring critics in both parties, used recess appointments to add two pro-labor members to the board. Since then, the NLRB's decisions have more often than not infuriated Big Business and its conservative allies.