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Obama silent on card check bill (click for full text)

Speaking to an audience of union chiefs and prominent members of Congress, Obama said he favored reversing President Bush’s labor policies, but the new president did not discuss the key labor-backed bill, the Employee Free Choice Act.

“We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement,” Obama said.
The card check bill, on the other hand, has the potential to expand union membership dramatically.

The silence from Mr. Obama on the issue came a day after Vice President Biden said he and Mr. Obama thought that action on the card check bill would be slower than expected and that the measure might be watered down.

Josh Gerstein Josh Gerstein Fri Jan 30, 6:53 pm ET
President Obama’s first major White House event aimed at wooing organized labor came and went Friday without any mention of the union’s movement’s top priority: so-called card check legislation pending on Capitol Hill.

Speaking to an audience of union chiefs and prominent members of Congress, Obama said he favored reversing President Bush’s labor policies, but the new president did not discuss the key labor-backed bill, the Employee Free Choice Act.

“We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement,” Obama said.

Obama signed three executive orders requiring new federal contractors to hire existing employees, changing disclosures given to employees, and blocking the use of federal funds to discourage a union. All are favored by labor, but they will have at most a modest impact.

The card check bill, on the other hand, has the potential to expand union membership dramatically.

The silence from Mr. Obama on the issue came a day after Vice President Biden said he and Mr. Obama thought that action on the card check bill would be slower than expected and that the measure might be watered down.

“Both of us thought 10 months ago that this would be a top-priority item in terms of immediate action. We know there’s probably going to be some compromise here,” Biden told CNBC. Asked if that meant the issue might not be addressed until 2010, Biden said, “No..This year we hope.”

At a press briefing Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to say whether Obama endorsed Biden’s timeline for the bill. Gibbs referred reporters to Obama’s comments to the Washington Post in which he said he planned to “focus first [on] key economic priority items.”

Obama also announced that Biden will lead a cabinet-level task force to focus on middle-class issues. In another bow to organized labor, Biden told the East Room audience that the task force’s executive director will be vice presidential aide and economist, Jared Bernstein.

Bernstein is well liked in labor circles. His presence at the panel may calm some left-leaning economists and labor leaders leery of Obama’s choices for other economic posts, such as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and economic adviser Larry Summers.

Despite the event’s focus on the middle class, Obama was at his most animated Friday as he spoke about Americans who are still struggling even to get into that bracket. “I should note that when I talk about the middle class, I’m talking about folks who are currently in the middle class, but also people who aspire to be in the middle class. We’re not forgetting the poor. They are going to be front and center,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure that they can get a piece of that American Dream if they’re willing to work for it.”

After the East Room event, labor leaders were effusive about Obama’s actions.

“It’s a great day for the middle class,” Teamsters’ president James P. Hoffa told Politico. “The president is really delivering on what he talked about during the campaign.”

Asked if he was disappointed that Obama made no mention of the card check bill, Hoffa said, “No, I wasn’t disappointed at all. The president’s doing a great job in very trying circumstances… Obviously, it’s a priority of organized labor. So I think its something that he will address at some point this year.”

Another guest, Chris Chase of the Change to Win labor federation, said the event validated his organization’s work for Obama. “I felt like we really saw clear evidence of why our members worked so hard to put him in the position he is in,” Chase said.

Asked about Obama’s failure to mention card check, Chase was diplomatic. “We have heard repeatedly for months—even two years about his strong support for the Free Choice Act…I thought there was unmistakably clarity about his support for labor,” the labor federation’s executive director said.

However, one labor activist and writer, Jonathan Tasini, said there is nervousness among union officials about where their most coveted legislation is headed.

“The labor movement’s concern, I think right now is that this may drop in the order of priorities,” Tasini said. “To push the card check bill would invite a fairly intense fight. .The concern is the administration doesn’t want to take this fight on at this point.”

Tasini said Obama may also have omitted reference to the Employee Free Choice Act because Republicans senators are reportedly holding up his nominee for Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, in part over noncommittal answers she gave about the card check bill during her confirmation hearing.

Most labor leaders, whose unions lose members when the economy tanks, agree that Obama is right to focus on jump starting the economy, but Tasini said many wonder whether he will really “go to the mat” for the card check bill in the foreseeable future.

For now, top labor officials are keeping those worries to themselves and reveling in being welcomed into the White House after eight years in the cold. “From the labor movement’s perspective, it’s like going from the dark ages to the age of enlightenment,” Tasini said.

Posted by Admin on 01/31 at 09:04 AM
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