WASHINGTON (PAI) – Legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act, which promotes collective bargaining, would help pull the U.S. out of its economic hole, a top White House official says.
But Ron Bloom, Democratic President Barack Obama’s senior counselor for manufacturing policy, admits that his is a difficult message to get across to the nation, especially in an age of political attack ads and 30-second sound bites.
Repeatedly disclaiming, “I don’t do politics,” Bloom, a former top financial advisor to the Steelworkers, whom Obama brought into the White House to orchestrate the rescue of the U.S. auto industry, reiterated Obama’s support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
The EFCA, labor’s top legislative goal, died without a floor vote in the 111th Congress due to a virulent business campaign against it and a planned Senate GOP filibuster. The EFCA promotes collective bargaining by leveling the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing, first-contract negotiations and penalties for labor law-breaking.
To get such a law to congressional votes, “You have to have a real conversation about what kind of country we want to have,” Bloom said in an Oct. 29 keynote address at a D.C. conference on the 75th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act.
“A lot of companies are run by honorable people,” and the administration “wants to have that conversation company by company,” Bloom said. The discussion would be about “shared prosperity,” and how to get there, including investing in education and infrastructure and in convincing firms that it is in their best interests to share the gains from rising productivity with their workers. That means collective bargaining, he added.
“I don’t have an idea about how to do this, but it is something to build over time,” Bloom admitted.
Bloom said unions play another vital role, often unnoticed and unappreciated, by both workers and businesses: Joining as partners to keep companies going when times are bad. That occurs, he said, when both sides realize they have too much to lose if they don’t share that joint goal of company and job preservation.
That’s what happened in the auto rescue, Bloom said. The rescue resulted in wages 50 percent below existing levels for new hires at GM and Chrysler, both reorganized in bankruptcy, and cuts at Ford. It saved 1 million-1.5 million jobs, including those at dealers and suppliers, Bloom said. The rescue would not have occurred, he added, had the union not had the credibility to convince its members of the need.
Photo: Ford workers at Chicago’s plant celebrate President Obama’s visit. (Teresa Albano/PW)