The AFL-CIO normally is quick to defend the interests of its 57 member unions. But the Washington, D.C.-based labor federation seems happy to make an exception in the case of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council. And the reason lies with the union's objections to the new Senate proposal to grant amnesty to virtually all 11 million or more illegal immigrants and expand work visa availability. In its current form, argue council officials, the measure would hamstring ICE agents from protecting the public from dangerous criminals. Toward that end, Council President Chris Crane and nine other members last August filed suit against three top immigration officials in their carrying out of a June executive order by President Obama.
And now there are two dozen. This Tuesday, December 11, the Michigan House of Representatives passed, and Governor Rick Snyder signed, a pair of laws designed to protect employees from having to pay dues (or "agency fees" in lieu of joining) to a union in order to keep their jobs. The measures, one each applying to the private and public sector, make Michigan the nation's 24th state with "Right to Work" legislation. "We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," stated Gov. Snyder during an evening press conference following passage. Unions are taking the opposite view. About 12,500 opponents showed up at the State Capitol Building in Lansing to protest, with about 2,500, many of them shouting slogans, jamming the interior.
In the eyes of the AFL-CIO, a president can never lean too far leftward. But if President Obama hasn't made all the right moves, he's made enough of them to win its support. On March 13, the federation's 57-member executive council met in a closed-door session in Orlando, Florida to unanimously endorse Barack Obama for re-election. "We will continue to have disagreements with him (Obama)," said federation President Richard Trumka after the vote. "But we've never doubted one thing: We've never doubted he's a friend of working people and he's the best out there."
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 - and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP's smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor.
For organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during the Obama years has become a de facto legislative body, issuing rules and rulings to give unions extra advantages in organizing and bargaining that Congress won't enact. Not surprisingly, union officials are dismayed over a vote in Congress last week to block a proposed NLRB regulation to shorten the time frame for holding representation elections and a board ruling expanding the leeway for forming workplace "micro-unions." Last Wednesday, on November 30, the House of Representatives by 235-188 passed the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (H.R. 3094), which, among other things, would counteract a "quickie" or "ambush" election rule unveiled by the NLRB in mid-year. Meanwhile, the Senate has come out with a similar bill focusing on the micro-union issue.
The Democratic National Convention early next September will be held in Charlotte. It's a city without a single union hotel. And it's located in Right to Work North Carolina. Union officials and partisans don't like this. The party's choice of convention site, then, can be seen as a symbol of a growing rift between the party and the unions. Union leaders, for all practical purposes, have nowhere else to go. And most rank and file still vote reliably Democratic. A schism is almost out of the question.
Richard Trumka, the burly president of the AFL-CIO, believes the climate for an upsurge in union organizing couldn't be better. And just to make sure that the federation and its member unions can take advantage of opportunities to get out the pro-union vote, Trumka (see photo) and top officials are laying the groundwork for their own version of what is fast becoming the ultimate campaign fundraising tool: a political action committee (PAC) which, unlike a standard PAC, faces virtually no limits on individual contributions.
Union leaders, frustrated over their inability to sway Congress, more than ever are relying upon the National Labor Relations Board to enact stealth legislation. The board, now with a Democratic majority, seems willing to oblige them. Case in point: an NLRB proposal announced last Tuesday, June 21, and published in the Federal Register the next day, to substantially reduce the duration of election campaigns for union representation. While the board touts the regulation as an overdue streamlining of an inefficient system, its covert motive, say critics, is to hamstring employer opposition.
Wisconsin Senate Democrats can come out of hiding. Yesterday evening, an all-Republican Senate passed by an 18-1 margin a plan by GOP Governor Scott Walker to restrict public-sector union bargaining rights. The bill, stalled by Democrats who fled the state to block a mandatory quorum, today went to the GOP-controlled Assembly, which approved the measure a few hours ago by 53-42.
Organized labor, masters of aggressive politics, had its share of triumphs in 2010. With Democrats, their natural ally, the previous year having taken control of the White House and the Senate while increasing their advantage in the House, this was to be expected. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other union officials used their window of opportunity to pressure Congress into passing a health care overhaul mandating unprecedented degrees of government intrusion, and by extension, major opportunities for unionization of the health care labor force. They also secured key presidential appointments.