Labor Day struggle for unions and Obama
Labor Day marks a rough year for President Obama and the labor union movement that had high hopes for him. Unemployment remains high, and unions are under fire from political conservatives.
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The demographic profile of the labor movement tells part of the political story.Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike a time when most unionized workers toiled in factories and mines, most today are public employees – teachers, police officers, firefighters, and office workers among them – on government payrolls.
Last year’s elections saw Republicans (including some tea partyers) making important gains, not just in the US House of Representatives but at the state level as well. And with economic difficulties hitting state and local governments, plus strong anti-government feelings reflected in the tea party movement, labor unions are feeling under siege.
"Over the last year, there has been a remarkably rapid deterioration in the bargaining power of labor unions and of workers in general who work for public sector employers," Gary Burtless, a former Labor Department economist now with the Brookings Institution, told Voice of America.
Salaries have not kept up with gains in productivity, he says, and workers are getting less of a share of the value that is produced by companies, while owners and top managers are getting bigger rewards.
"The pendulum has swung a long way," Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, told the AP. "In the next year, I think all unions can really hope for is to keep more bad things from happening and to get as much of a jobs program enacted as possible."
At a recent Monitor-hosted breakfast, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka indicated the difficulties in the labor movement’s relationship with President Obama.
If Obama’s jobs speech this Thursday does not “propose bold solutions on the jobs crisis,” and consists of “nibbling around the edge” of the issue, Trumka said, “history will judge him and I think working people will judge him.”
Labor Day for Obama could be a tryout for the jobs program he’s about to unveil. Together with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Obama will visit Detroit Monday to celebrate Labor Day with workers and their families as well as to discuss his efforts to create jobs.
Republicans have taken to calling Obama “President Zero” for the no net gain in jobs last month, so it could be a crucial week for the President and for labor unions.