Obama's Labor Problem: Union Scales Back Support for Democratic Party

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"Everybody right now in America is talking about jobs and 30 years ago or 40 years ago there wasn't much of a difference between talking about jobs and talking about labor," he said.

But today when just 12 percent of workers carry a union card, union issues like collective bargaining rights and laws easing union organization are falling farther down on lawmakers' priority list.

"Democratic presidents and most Democrats in Congress don't make this the highest priority," Reich said.

But whatever qualms the unions have with Democrats, the party is far more receptive to union concerns than their GOP counterparts. The Republican Party tends to support right-to-work initatives that weaken union influence.

For example, a National Labor Relations Board case against Boeing has ignited a firestorm of discontent among Republicans. The board has charged Boeing with violating labor laws after the company shifted production of some of its new Dreamliner 787 airplane from Washington, a unionized state, to South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

Every GOP presidential candidate has condemned the NLRB for, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry put it, trying to "dictate to a private company, Boeing, where they can build a plant."

Perry said the board was stacked with "anti-business cronies" while fellow candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann said they were "anti-job people." Mitt Romney said the board's actions send "shock waves across the nation and, if allowed to stand, will result in American job losses."

"The Republicans are so much more deeply committed to weakening bargaining power," said Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institute.

"Republicans said the budget of the NLRB for the remainder of the fiscal year should be zero. If you're a union member that can't be good news," Burltess continued. "If you're a union you want every ounce of power that the federal government will bring to bear and for even-handedness in labor relations to be protected. You don't want it to be zeroed out."

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