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Latest News - September 2011

September 5, 2011
Unions adjust to new reality under Obama
Source: The Associated Press
By: Sam Hananel

WASHINGTON - In the early days of the Obama administration, organized labor had grand visions of pushing through a sweeping agenda that would help boost sagging membership and help revive union strength.

Now labor faces this reality: Public employee unions are in a drawn-out fight for their very survival in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where GOP lawmakers have curbed collective bargaining rights. Also, many union leaders are grousing that the president they worked so hard to elect has not focused enough on job creation and other bold plans to get their members back to work.

"Obama campaigned big, but he's governing small," said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Labor remains a core Democratic constituency. But at the same time, unions have begun shifting money and resources out of Democratic congressional campaigns and back to the states in a furious effort to reverse or limit GOP measures that could wipe out union rolls.

The AFL-CIO's president, Richard Trumka, says it's part of a new strategy for labor to build an independent voice separate from the Democratic Party.

Union donations to federal candidates at the beginning of this year were down about 40 percent compared with the same period in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"The pendulum has swung a long way," said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. "In the next year, I think all unions can really hope for is to keep more bad things from happening and to get as much of a jobs program enacted as possible."

Unions fell short last month in their recall campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republicans. Now they are spending millions more in Ohio, where they fight similar battles.

It's a far cry from the early optimism unions had after Obama came into office. Back then, unions hoped a Democratic-controlled Congress would pass legislation to make it easier for unions to organize workers. But business groups fought that proposal hard, and it never came to a vote.

Union leaders grew more disappointed when the president's health care overhaul didn't include a government-run insurance option. Then Obama agreed to extend President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.

Obama came out in favor of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that most unions say will cost American jobs. Despite campaigning in favor of raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour, Obama hasn't touched the issue since taking office.

Obama has handed labor some smaller victories that didn't have to go through Congress. But labor's frustration with Obama reached new heights this summer as Trumka accused him of working with tea party Republicans on deficit reduction instead of "stepping up to the plate" on jobs.

James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said on CNN that Obama should challenge businesses with healthy bottom lines to spend more in the U.S. by hiring new workers, building plants and expanding operations.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis defended Obama, saying the administration has established many programs to create jobs, worked to extend unemployment insurance benefits and helped save the auto industry.

"The president is very concerned about job creation," Solis said, "That been our priority from day one."

 

 


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