AFL-CIO sends 'to-do' ideas to Obama team

WASHINGTON - Gathering ideas from unions, analyses and experts, the AFL-CIO sent a 16-page 'to do list' memo to the new Obama administration. The list submitted before the Democrat's inauguration, outlined a wide range of legislative and administrative moves the federation contended would help workers. But at least one of the recommendations – appointing a U.S. Trade Representative with 'demonstrated commitment to addressing the destabilizing influences in trade policy and who is committed to ensuring trade policies provide broadly shared benefits for working people' – may already have been bounced.

That's because Obama nominated former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who in that office pushed the benefits of the controversial jobs-losing North American Free Trade Agreement. Kirk was 'not our first choice,' federation policy director Thea Lee told the Dallas Morning News. 'We have some concerns.'

On the other hand, the AFL-CIO's recommendation that Obama send the Federal Aviation Administration back to the bargaining table to negotiate a new union contract with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association tracks one of Obama's major legislative initiatives as U.S. senator.

The new pact, the federation said, should be based on the pact NATCA and the FAA reached in the closing days of the Clinton administration, which Bush dumped. After six years of talks and some progress, Bush's FAA declared an 'impasse' and imposed its last offer on NATCA, slashing the pay of the most-experienced controllers and freezing the salaries of the rest. Controllers have been retiring early in droves, NATCA notes.

Create jobs and help homeowners Topping the AFL-CIO's list is dealing with the Bush economic crash through passing the stimulus bill and sending its dollars to homeowners facing foreclosure and to aid states, auto workers and manufacturers.

But right after that, the federation says Obama should use the 'bully pulpit' of the presidency to campaign for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining. The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-run House, but business is mounting a strenuous multi-million-dollar ad campaign to force 41 senators to keep a GOP-led filibuster going against it, talking it to death. There are also some shaky Democrats, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said. That's where Obama can have impact.

'President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said if he went to work in a factory, the first thing he would do is join a union,' the AFL-CIO said. 'Forty years later, President Ronald Reagan sent exactly the opposite message when he fired striking air traffic controllers.' That led, the federation said, to employer anti-union 'tactics at a level not seen in decades.'

'The new administration can make a tremendous difference by publicly sending the message that the administration believes in, and supports, workers' rights to form and join unions, and the importance of a thriving labor movement to our nation's economic health and well-being,' the AFL-CIO stated.

By 'speaking positively about unions and workers' rights to organize,' by promising to 'stand with and protect' workers' rights and 'by criticizing employers who interfere' with unionization, Obama's administration 'can set a new tone and put our nation's labor-relations system back on the right track,' the AFL-CIO concluded.

Laundry list of reforms The federation also listed a wide range of administrative measures Obama could take to help workers. Some top ones include:

Restoring project labor agreements for federally funded construction, raising workers' pay while insuring projects got done on time and with worker protections. One of Bush's first moves in 2001 was to dump PLAs. The federation also wants Obama to order federal agencies to follow prevailing wage determinations reached under the Davis-Bacon and Service Contract Acts, preventing low-balling contractors from winning.

Reversing Bush orders that harmed workers who toil for the executive branch or private firms it hires. One is a 2001 order that said building service firms that take over cleaning contracts did not have to give current workers right of first refusal of jobs. Another would restore and improve federal labor-management partnerships Democratic President Clinton established and Bush abolished. A third would replace a Bush order that federal agencies post notices that they have the right not to join unions with notices that spell out all their rights – including protection from retaliation for pro-union stands.

Restoring bargaining rights Bush stripped from Justice Department workers and from the nation's 14,000 airport screeners on 'national security' grounds. That's a key cause for the AFGE, which wants to unionize them.

'Restore air traffic services as an ‘inherently governmental function.'' Bush's budget office said such services could be contracted out, again over union protests on safety grounds. More broadly, the AFL-CIO wants a three-year moratorium on all federal contracting out and outsourcing, pending a complete 'audit and review' of the idea. And it says the Agriculture Department should stop a Bush experiment, by Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind. -- formerly Bush's budget chief -- to privatize food stamps.

Suspend bargaining on all new trade and investment pacts, and review all past pacts, as Obama promised during the election campaign. 'Any new agreements must assure balance between the interests of companies and those of workers,' the fed said. As part of that review, the AFL-CIO also called for 'new administration priorities and benchmarks' for the last three pacts Bush negotiated, with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and said Obama should 'lay out a new template for future trade agreements.' The federation strongly backs the TRADE Act, which would restore congressional primacy in setting standards U.S. bargainers in trade deals, and which would order them to write enforceable labor rights into the texts of such pacts.

Have the U.S. take the federation's extensively documented trade case against China –which has the largest trade surplus with the U.S. – to the World Trade Organ-ization. The fed's case, which Bush's USTR rejected without reading it, showed China's rampant 'violation of workers' rights is an unfair trade practice,' the AFL-CIO said.

Identify and nominate federal judges 'who have a demonstrated commitment to equal rights,' including understanding the courts' role in protecting those rights, including workers' rights. Obama has already said he wants to name judges who are more attuned to the wider society and to the needs of all citizens. Bush's nominees were virtually uniformly from the pro-prosecution side or the Right Wing, or both.

Appoint pro-worker members and chair of the NLRB and restore the Labor Department, its Wage and Hour Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to their 'historic roles' as 'advocating for and protecting the interests of workers.'

Formalize the Clinton-era ban – which Bush's agency has violated – on wage-and-hour investigators sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. It would also require ICE to get a high-level OK before raiding worksites during union organizing drives – a common tactic anti-union employers have used.