Big business prepares for a less friendly Washington

Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 09:19 am
Posted on Thu, Nov. 06, 2008
Big business prepares for a less friendly Washington
Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON " After years of playing offense, big business is getting ready for the less familiar role of playing defense following President-elect Barack Obama's victory and legislative gains by other Democrats.

Corporate America enjoyed favorable treatment under the Bush administration for almost eight years and for most of the era of Republican control of Congress from 1995 to 2007.

Now unions may gain a stronger hand, and business is bracing for greater financial regulation, worker-friendly policies and an emphasis on social spending.

From a guarded view on trade to expanded collective-bargaining rights, there's a new wind blowing through the Capitol and big business groups are bracing for a storm.

One reason they're sure to find a less sympathetic ear is that members of groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent big bucks trying to defeat Democrats in congressional races.

Instead, Democrats expanded their numbers in both chambers. That left these groups on Wednesday trying to put a bright face on results that gave Democrats at least five more Senate seats and 18 new members of the House of Representatives.

"There are many areas of potential cooperation," John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan and now the president of the manufacturers' group, said in an optimistic morning-after news conference.

Greg Casey, president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, offered: "It's an opportunity for the American people to ask for competence in government."

Business lobbies can take solace in one important development: Democrats appear to have failed to win enough Senate seats to reach the 60-vote margin needed to cut off debate and force votes on controversial legislation.

This numbers game is important because unions have their eye on rapid passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which was supported by Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. The legislation would end seven decades of secret balloting during union drives and instead allow organizers to collect signatures from a majority of workers to form a union. This process is called "card check."

"We're very optimistic about an Obama presidency. The Employee Free Choice Act is our number one legislative priority for next year and we are going to be pushing very hard," said Thea Lee, the chief economist for the AFL-CIO. "It was the centerpiece of our electoral efforts . . . we are very confident that it will happen."

Less than 24 hours after the election, both unions and big business were busy identifying who they'd be pressuring if the issue goes to a vote early next year. Many House members voted for it earlier this year, knowing that it wouldn't pass the Senate.

Now, with a president who won't veto the pro-union legislation, more Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in disarray, it's a different ballgame.

"Next time out its not going to be considered a 'free vote' by anybody, so that's a changing dynamic," said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the Chamber of Commerce. "I am still positive that we can defeat it."

Manufacturers fear an early vote on the question.

"This is not the time and certainly not the issue to build a relationship," Engler said, suggesting that Obama and Democrats will need big business to help turn around the economy. He identified Virginia's Democratic senator-elect, Mark Warner, a pro-business centrist, as a Democrat he'll be lobbying to block the card-check measure.

While recognizing that unions will have a voice in the White House for the first time in many years, the Chamber's Josten wasn't worried that he won't be heard.

"I had to fight for two years with the Republican majority in Congress on immigration (reform) . . . the majority of people we were fighting were Republicans," he said. He also recalled that the business group also fought a losing battle against complicated new accounting rules after energy giant Enron's collapse.

With the jobless rate expected to rise above 7 percent before Obama takes office and the economy expected to contract sharply over the 10 weeks until inauguration, Josten thinks that reversing the economic slump will trump any activist agenda.

"It's the economy, the economy and the economy," he said. "Obama is a smart guy and he knows his policies depend on the economy growing."
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Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 09:32 am
Unions and the Return of the Middle Class
By: Jo Fish
Sunday October 19, 2008

As a member of a union that I have to wonder about sometimes (ALPA, the Airline Pilots Association) I think it's certainly worthwhile to talk for a minute about the Employee Free Choice Act and the role of unions in building a stronger middle-class and hence stronger America. Why do I wonder about ALPA? More on that in a minute...

A quick and simplistic review for those not old enough to remember the ultimate Federal Union Buster, Ronnie Reagan and his most excellent (in his mind) PATCO adventure. In 1981 the air traffic controllers union decided to go on strike and the controllers were fired by Reagan for violating a federal law banning strikes by governmental unions, although previous strikes by other governmental unions like the Postal Workers had not been punished by terminating their employees. Reagan's views of unions was the same as virtually every other major republican figure of the 70's and 80's; that unions were the creation of the devil and the antithesis of American/Free Market capitalism and thus should be put down like Old Yeller... with a single shot to the head, but without the emotion.

Reagan's war on labor began in the summer of 1981, when he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers and destroyed their union. As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson noted, that was "an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear -- illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad."

Reagan gave dedicated union foes direct control of the federal agencies that were designed originally to protect and further the rights and interests of workers and their unions.

Reagan's attitude towards unions was a bit surprising, as he had far more success as president of the Screen Actors Guild (seven terms) than as an B-List star in Hollywood. Federal Reagan spent a lot of time and effort successfully convincing Americans in the 80's that their corporate overlords were far more deserving of their attention and obeisance than were any unions or their representatives... it was in many ways the beginning of the time when the republicans discovered that in fact, American could be easily convinced to vote against their own self-interests and disbelieve their own lying eyes even when confronted with evidence that they were being screwed.

So Reagan managed to cement an image in the minds of many, many Americans that unions were (and are) an evil not to be borne or countenanced by them, an attitude that both delights and empowers employers in their quest to marginalize their workers and keep stuffing their bottom-lines at the expense of their workforce, something that has led to the decline of both real wages and loss of jobs here in the US as we have tried to bring our economy and workforce into the 21st Century.

The Employee Free Choice act is a tool that is being advocated by the AFL-CIO and others to help America begin to rebuild it's middle-class infrastructure and guarantee that jobs, good and services we offer in this country are both economically competitive in a global market-place, but also are of sufficient quality that consumers world-wide will prefer American goods and services to similar goods and services provided from Asian or other competitor countries. A move to a union workplace can be a win-win for employers and employees who begin to see a union as a partnership, and not a master-indentured servant relationship...

All that labor wonk stuff is important, but it overlooks the economic and political potential of meaningful labor law reform. Everyone is lamenting the outsourcing of those “high-paying” manufacturing jobs, but we tend to forget that those jobs used to be crappy low-paying jobs before the CIO turned them into coveted good-paying jobs. In Las Vegas"what many refer to as the River Rouge of the service sector"the labor movement is not only delivering the goods, but delivering them to those that have been traditionally ignored by the labor movement. The members of today’s Las Vegas Culinary union are 65 percent nonwhite, 70 percent female, and full of recent immigrants. As Marianne Singer, a waitress at the unionized MGM Grand, explained, "Our wages are higher, the medical benefits are great, and we have a guaranteed 40-hour week. Thanks to all that, I have a beautiful 2,000-square-foot home with a three-car garage." A new blue-collar golden age might just rise from the despair of today’s Nickel and Dimed world.

The recent economic downturn, and the collapse of once-mighty banks and investment houses does not directly bear on the Employee Free Choice act, but the obscenely fat and bloated salaries paid to the allegedly competent leaders, cronies and henchmen have begun to underscore in a way not visible before that workers at every level need a voice in their company and without the representation of a union that's probably not going to happen in most organizations.

Productivity in this country has gone up, the work ethic of the American worker is still pretty damn good but the recognition and rewards offered by management in many, many non-union shops is borderline pathetic. We as workers are expected to answer the question "so what have you done for me today?" daily with little or no thought by management to what our achievements might have been yesterday, despite the fact that yesterdays accomplishments are the basis of todays success, and management literally could give a crap about that fact. Adoption of the EFCA will allow workers to unionize with less management interference, and allow workers to begin to hold management as accountable for their actions as management has held workers over the last thirty years since Reagan began to crusade against American workers and for his business buddies.

Obama, a current co-sponsor of the EFCA needs to clearly connect his support for the Employee Free Choice Act to his vision for rebuilding the middle class, and we as progressives need to connect the EFCA to obtaining 60 seats in the Senate, getting a filibuster-proof Senate majority to allow its passage as a way to begin rebuilding our country and economy.

It's our country, and if a union can help provide the health-care, benefits and wages that help us sustain the productivity and competitiveness of our country in this impending global recession, how do Americans lose from that? Well, Americans who have not made obscene amounts of money on the backs of their workers, and given little to nothing back to anyone.

Oh, and I like and support ALPA, but I do wish that IMHO, they would spend less time making my fellow pilots believe that the image Reagan sold was/is true... so many pilots pay their dues but truly believe that their officers and leaders spend inordinate amounts of money and time catering to their own self-interests and being too cozy with the airlines when the going gets tough and that sure does not help sell ALPA to new members or pilots at non-union airlines who are looking for the help and support that a union should provide.
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Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 09:32 am
Great news for everyone who works for a living!

Effing Obamorons anyway.
0 Replies
Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 09:50 am
i hope that taft hartley gets repealed.
Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 10:24 am
I hope DC gets nuked in January.
Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2008 12:00 pm
Son, what is wrong with you? You sound like Osama bin Laden. America had an election, that's the way a democracy works. Would you please grow up and accept reality.
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Reply Fri 7 Nov, 2008 03:09 am
I'm a member of a union and I work for a living. I've worked for the same company for 26 years. Thanks to my union membership I earn 96k instead of 56k. I've got guaranteed wages growth of 15% over the next 3 years. I've also got guaranteed job security. The company has a guarantee of no industrial action. Even in the case of a dispute, production does not stop. It's all achievable when people are willing to work together and negotiate in good faith, rather than trying to destroy the other side.
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