The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why can’t labor get behind Romney? Well, there’s the broken back thing…

By The Building Tradesman

Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

Michigan voters have been returning their absentee ballots and will go to the polls on Nov.  7, joining the rest of the nation in making the choice between two candidates for president whose political philosophies couldn’t be farther apart.

Although Obama has been up in the polling in Michigan, the numbers have been tightening, and our state is still seen as one of nine swing states that will affect the outcome of the presidential election. The union vote will matter in Michigan, as it did in the 2008 presidential election: AFL-CIO union members across battleground states supported Obama by a 68 percent to 30 percent margin over John McCain.

President Obama’s record with the union movement is mixed. He failed to help push the union-friendly Employee Free Choice Act through Congress during his first two years in office. Obama has signed trade deals that unions oppose. Unions reluctantly supported ObamaCare, which lacked a broader public option championed by labor. And the labor movement didn’t care for the president’s decision to extend the Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy.

But that’s contrasted with Obama’s decision to save the General Motors and Chrysler, and as a result, saving about 1 million U.S. jobs. (Romney famously penned a newspaper article under the headline “Let Detroit go bankrupt”).He has made pro-labor appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Obama has extended Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rules on federal contracting. And, Obama is not  seeking to dismantle the U.S. labor movement – which is no small thing.

“I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits,” Obama told the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department Legislative Conference in April. “That’s what I believe. I believe the economy is stronger when collective bargaining rights are protected. I believe all of us are better off when we’ve got broad-based prosperity that grows outwards from a strong middle class. I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called “right to work” laws that might also be called “right to work for less,” laws – that’s not about economics, that’s about politics.”

While President Obama hasn’t been American’s biggest cheerleader for organized labor, organized labor leaders figure he’s better than the other guy.

“Although the labor movement has sometimes differed with the president and often pushed his administration to do more and do it faster, we have never doubted his commitment to working families,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement endorsing the president.

While Republican Mitt Romney’s public record dealing with unions as Massachusetts governor is inconclusive, he has come out like gangbusters against unions this year, going so far as to call for a national right-to-work law. His comments have been hand-in-glove with the Republican national platform issued during their August nominating convention. The Tea Party-inspired GOP platform called for a national right-to-work law, and it also encourages killing federal prevailing wage and project labor agreement stipulations. Previous Republican party planks endorsed workers’ right to unionize – but not the 2012 version.

When he was endorsed by the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors earlier this year, Romney said in his speech to their board, “If I become president of the United States I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving union bosses an unfair advantage in contracting. One of the first things I will do – actually on day one – is I will end the government’s favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements.

“I also will make sure that workers in America have the right to a secret ballot and I will fight for right to work laws.”

All that adds up to a nearly universal endorsement by the nation’s unions of Obama over Romney. No shocker there. “What they (unions) fear with a Romney administration is broken backs,” said Harley Shaiken, a University of California, Berkeley, professor and labor historian to Yahoo News. “That focuses the mind.”