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Labor Agenda in Doubt as Republican Wins Senate Seat (click here)

By Holly Rosenkrantz

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg)—Labor leaders, who spent the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency taking advantage of renewed influence in Washington, may struggle to achieve their agenda after Republican Scott Brown won a Senate seat in Massachusetts.

“Labor is the real loser in last night’s election,” said Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in an interview today.

Union leaders last week celebrated an agreement with the administration shielding union members from a proposed tax on high- cost health insurance plans. Now, those labor-led negotiations may be moot as Scott’s election throws Obama’s health insurance overhaul into doubt.

Brown’s takeover of the late Democrat Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat gives Republicans 41 votes in the chamber, enough to stall the legislation. Democrats were seeking ways to salvage the health legislation after months trying to assemble the 60-vote coalition generally needed for Senate passage.

“You can’t spend a year working on this and then say to voters we didn’t tackle health care somehow,” said Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic consultant and former political director of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor organization, in an interview. “If any worker spent a year working on a project and got nothing done, they’d probably be fired.”

Labor ‘Taking Stock’

Labor leaders are “taking stock” of their agenda today, Bill Samuels, the chief lobbyist for the 11-million member AFL-CIO, said in an interview. Unions oppose one shortcut to health-care legislation: getting the House to accept a Senate-passed version as- is.

“They can’t pass it, there are too many problems with that bill,” Samuels said. The labor-negotiated compromise announced last week “is very much alive.”

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union and a close ally of Obama, said in a statement that the House of Representatives should pass the Senate’s health insurance bill, with an agreement that it will be “fixed, fixed right, and fixed right away through a parallel process.”

“Some in Washington may want to throw up their hands and walk away; others may call for walking back reform by passing something smaller,” he said. “There is no turning back, there is no running way, there is no reset button.”

Additional Issues

Labor’s other agenda items also may be in doubt. Union leaders promised their members passage of so-called card-check legislation, making union organizing easier, in the first quarter of the year. The bill already faced opposition from Democrats such as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who faces a re-election challenge in November.

Unions are going to push Republicans such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, who have voted with Democrats in the past, to support a “bipartisan version” of the card-check bill, Samuels said.

Supporters of the measure have negotiated a compromise dropping the provision that gave it its name, a requirement that companies grant union recognition as soon a majority of employees at a workplace sign cards saying they want a union.

Obama nominees backed by unions are also awaiting votes in the Senate, where one member can hold up confirmation. Craig Becker, an attorney who has represented the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, has been blocked from a position on the National Labor Relations Board by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Union-friendly senators are going to have a tough time securing Becker’s confirmation after the Massachusetts outcome, Clark University’s Chaison said.

Lack of Muscle

Labor unions failed to demonstrate their muscle by getting out the votes and helping score a Democratic victory in Massachusetts, he said. Moderate Democrats may be willing to take their chances and vote against labor issues without fear of repercussions at the polls, he said.

“The fear of having labor against you, particularly the ground troops, is largely gone,” Chaison said.

Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said lawmakers need to quickly shift their policy making to creating jobs.

“The election is an exclamation point that the government needs to focus on good middle class jobs and rebuilding the economy,” he said in an e-mailed statement. Union members want Congress to “prove they can and will support the creation of good middle class jobs.”

Failing to do that could lead to an “outright catastrophe” in midterm congressional elections in November, where union members are looking for a more “populist strategy” to energize their get out the vote efforts, said Harley Shaiken, a labor relations professor at the University of California at Berkley.

“Mid-level union leaders will sit on their hands,” Rosenthal said. “They worked hard” for Democrats “and they will have little to show for it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted by Admin on 01/20 at 06:33 PM