- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

The government-affairs director of the AFL-CIO said he is certain that organized labor’s top priority — a law that would make it much easier for unions to organize businesses both large and small — will pass Congress and be signed by President Barack Obama.

“I have no doubt it will pass and will be signed,” William Samuel told reporters and editors of The Washington Times. He was referring to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the right to join a union as soon as a majority of them signed cards requesting union representation.

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, Mr. Samuel also said that the more than $300 million spent by labor unions to educate workers was crucial to the Democrats’ success in key battleground states, such as Ohio and Michigan.


The AFL-CIO, which is a federation of 56 labor unions, will keep its electoral organization in place in many of the 21 states in which it operated in 2008 and use its 250,000 volunteers to serve as a grass-roots lobbying network to pressure Congress, Mr. Samuel said.

The AFL-CIO’s agenda includes not just the Free Choice Act, also known as “card-check,” but also a substantial economic-stimulus bill, health care reform, expanded family and medical leave and paid sick leave.

In addition, Thea Lee, policy director for the AFL-CIO, said the organization favors looking into implementing a “transaction tax” on all securities’ transactions. The fee, she said, could finance an insurance fund that could, for example, be used for any future bailouts.

Mr. Samuel expressed concern about the nation’s stagnating wages. He said the card-check legislation would help reverse the trend.

“Workers haven’t recovered from the previous recession,” he said. The card-check bill is “integral to fixing the economy,” he added. “If we are going to have a consumer-led recovery, workers are going to have to earn more.”

“Restoring the right to bargain is a key to fixing the economy,” Mr. Samuel added. “We’ve spoken to” Mr. Obama, he said, “and we think he sees it the same way.”

Currently, only 7.5 percent of the private-sector work force belongs to a union, roughly one-third of labor’s proportion of 25 years ago. But Mr. Samuel cited polling data showing that 54 percent of nonunion workers said they would join a union if they could.

“That translates into 60 million” potential new members, Mr. Samuel said.

A reasonable goal if the card-check legislation becomes law, he added, would be to return union membership to the 35 percent portion of the labor force that prevailed during the 1950s.

Business organizations strongly oppose card-check legislation and have made clear in pos-telection forums that they would fight it vigorously. “This is not the time and certainly not the issue to build a relationship,” National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler said the day after the election. “Destruction of the secret ballot is not a positive thing.”

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