LEILA NAVIDI / LAS VEGAS SUN FILE
Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Incoming president Barack Obama has made his most detailed statement since being elected about organized labor’s No. 1 priority, the Employee Free Choice Act.
Progressives have been growing concerned that Obama was backing off his strong support of the bill, but an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday suggests he’s still behind the legislation, which would make it much easier for unions to organize workers.
“I think the basic principle of making it easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union, (to) join a union, is important. And the basic outline of the Employee Fair Choice are ones that I agree with,” Obama told the Post. “But I will certainly listen to all parties involved including from labor and the business community, which I know considers this to be the devil incarnate. I will listen to parties involved and see if there are ways that we can bring those parties together and restore some balance.”
The free choice act would allow workers to organize simply by getting enough signatures on cards instead of prevailing in a secret ballot election, which unions claim management can impede by intimidating employees. The Culinary Union has used card check on the Strip with employers’ consent ever since Steve Wynn agreed to the method in 1989 and most other casino owners followed suit.
Should the legislation pass, holdouts such as Station Casinos could expect immediate and aggressive unionizing campaigns by Culinary.
Eddie Burke, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Nevada, said he was encouraged by Obama’s remarks, which he thinks should effectively put to rest any rumors that Obama was rescinding support of the bill.
He said SEIU and the rest of organized labor agree with Obama’s decision to put these priorities second to dealing with the economy. Obama reiterated to the Post that was his plan, saying “in terms of timetable, if we are losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize.”
In the Post interview, Obama made clear he will change the way the government deals with labor, whether or not card check becomes part of the equation.
“I think that the way the Bush Administration managed the Department of Labor, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), and a host of other aspects of labor-management relations put the thumb too heavily against unions. I want to lift that thumb,” he said. “There are going to be steps that we can take other than the Employee Free Choice Act that will make a difference there.”
Still, he doesn’t seem to have much patience for arguments from the business community that lack forward motion.
“You know, now if the business community’s argument against the Employee Free Choice Act is simply that it will make it easier for people to join unions and we think that is damaging to the economy, then they probably won’t get too far with me,” Obama told the Post. “If their arguments are we think there are more elegant ways of doing this or here are some modifications or tweaks to the general concept that we would like to see, then I think that’s a conversation that not only myself but folks in labor would be willing to have.”
The labor community is hopeful Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, pro-union Rep. Hilda Solis, will help champion card check. However, Politico has reported that Republicans were not satisfied with her answers during her confirmation hearing and might block her nomination.
Solis answered that she was “unqualified to speak” on right-to-work laws and she avoided questions on card check, saying she couldn’t answer for the Obama administration.
Any protracted debate on Solis’ confirmation would surely signal that the fight to pass card check in the Senate could be even more contentious than some are predicting.