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Unions aim to collect on White House clout
For the nation’s labor union leaders, it’s time to cash in.
Having mobilized an army of workers to help elect Barack Obama, top union officials have not been shy about their plans to push a legislative wish list blocked under President Bush, and they say they will not wait. On the other hand, business leaders have not been shy about warning the president-elect against such early moves.
“American workers turned out for the election. American voters voted for Barack Obama. And American workers won this election,” Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, an activist coalition of unions including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union.
She said union volunteers were critical to Democratic victories in such battleground states as Nevada, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia.
“We turned Virginia blue, and we’re going to keep it blue,” Mrs. Burger said.
Karen Ackerman, political director for the AFL-CIO, said her unions provided 250,000 campaign volunteers and 4,000 paid political staffers and “were the firewall that prevented John McCain from victories in the Rust Belt.”
AFL-CIO head John Sweeney said the labor movement’s “No. 1 priority” for the Obama administration is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), designed to make it easier for unions to recruit and organize in nonunion workplaces.
The bill, anathema to leading business groups, has majority support in the Democrat-dominated House and Senate, but has not been able to clear the 60-vote mark in the Senate to end a filibuster.
With Mr. Obama’s election and sizable Democratic gains in both chambers, “we think our prospects have increased dramatically to get it passed,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka.
Business organizations have offered an early olive branch to the president-elect, but caution that signing the unions’ pet bill would make good relations with the administration difficult, when the overall U.S. and global economy face recession and severe credit problems.
The union organizing bill “clearly should wait until after we get these economies stabilized and creating jobs and putting more people to work,” Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Donohue said.
John Engler, head of the National Association of Manufacturers, said, “This is not the time and certainly not the issue to build a relationship” between the new president and the business community.
Bernadette Budde, senior vice president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, said union leaders were in danger of overreaching.
“Just because they drove the engine doesn’t mean they weren’t in the caboose,” she said.
In his first pro-election press conference Friday, Mr. Obama said his first priority as president would be to create jobs and revive the economy. He was not asked about the Employee Free Choice Act, nor did he bring it up.
By Emily Miller
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