All Roads Don’t Lead Through the US Senate (Thankfully)
Josh Eidelson has a story on Richard Trumka’s post-election analysis. The AFL-CIO chief insists “We won’t be taken for granted,” pointing to labor’s essential role in the reelection on Barack Obama, as well as helping key progressives win their Senate races. As a negotiating tactic, making demands after you’re provided support is not ideal.
Trumka takes a stronger stance when it comes to what he wants regarding Social Security and Medicare than some others have, but his reading of where the president has been on this is overly optimistic.
“If any bipartisan deal includes cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or extends the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent,” Trumka pledged, “we will oppose it.” Asked about “chained CPI” – a way to slow Social Security’s growth that Sen. Bernie Sanders has warned could be part of a bipartisan deal – Trumka said, “That is definitely a cut to Social Security benefits.” Asked if he’s confident Obama would hold the line against cutting social insurance or extending all of the Bush tax cuts, Trumka answered, “I think so. He’s been pretty clear about that.” (In a September MSNBC appearance, top Obama adviser David Axelrod mentioned both “raise the cap” and “adjust the growth of the program” as elements of a Social Security “discussion worth having.”)
As always, near the top of the list is comprehensive labor law legislation. I’d say the odds of any labor law legislation is close to zero, while the odds of legislation that is both comprehensive and positive is in fact zero. (As an aside, I don’t understand our general insistence that reform legislation should be comprehensive. That usually means that it will be seriously flawed, since progressive forces are usually the weaker ones in our present political climate, a weakness that, as I’ve argued before, is not a product of lack of popular support. What we need is legislation that creates a positive feedback loop.) Hopefully the false promise of labor law reform won’t keep people from fighting tooth and nail against cuts in social insurance.
But legislation is not the only way to improve the situation for labor rights. Eidelson continues:
Meanwhile, there’s plenty the Obama administration could do – and so far hasn’t – without Congress. With an executive order, the president could change federal contracting to exclude more union-busting companies. With regulations, his Labor Department could restrict the use of dangerous equipment by teenagers working on factory farms, or extend basic overtime protections to domestic workers.
Trumka called for swift action on a long-delayed OSHA regulation regarding silica dust. Asked how quickly it should move, Trumka answered, “Last year.” As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks currently underway, Trumka said, “They have to make sure they negotiate a deal that actually helps in-sourcing rather than promotes outsourcing. That’s a position that he stood for throughout this election, and I feel confident that he will follow through on that.”
In fact, the Obama White House had drafted a fair contracting rule prior to the 2010 election, but didn’t issue it after the Republicans took the House.
I recognize that legislation is more long-lasting, but since there’s no reason for us to push for other things as well. To be clear, I’m not laying all the blame for inaction on the feet of the White House – there has been very little discussion of the possibility anywhere. Until we push for it, it’s on us.
One more thought. Not all workers are covered by federal labor law. State employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers are all outside the NLRB’s jurisdiction. States could extend protections to those workers. I wrote before about government enforcing labor standards on government assisted businesses and those with government contacts at the local level to protect workers. And despite the fact that it didn’t pass in Michigan, the idea of seeking a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining rights. There are numerous ways that protections can be sought. The tendency to focus on legislation draws out attention away from that.