Labor maps legislative battle for 2012

WASHINGTON – Organized labor will push several top legislative measures in the second session of the 112th Congress, but the outlook for most of them is uncertain, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel says.

In a Jan. 17 interview with Press Associates Union News Service, Samuel said the list includes fighting for a two-year transportation (highway-mass transit) funding bill, pushing for final resolution of a long-running war over airport construction and airways modernization – and union rights for airline workers – and extension of jobless benefits.

It also includes legislation to curb Internet piracy of intellectual property, since the piracy robs dollars from royalty-based wages for musicians, actors, screenwriters, and other unionized creative professionals. And the agenda includes a longer extension of emergency federal jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

But the outlook is cloudy for all. Even the jobless benefits bill, which both parties agree upon, is hung up by a partisan dispute over how to pay for the $150 billion measure.

Congress returned to town Jan. 17 to start this year’s session, after a first year characterized by Senate GOP filibusters on just about everything and by a tea party-dominated House GOP attacking spending and workers.

Samuel expects those attacks to continue. He forecasts congressional Republicans will use the Congressional Review Act – a Gingrich-era GOP law – to try to overturn new federal rules streamlining union recognition election procedures.

The big fights will be over job creation. Samuel expects the Obama administration to again support the infrastructure bill, jobless benefits, and other measures, though he concedes that aid to state and local governments may be iffy. Obama will outline his agenda in the Jan. 24 State of the Union address.

Labor may have, finally, won one battle with the House GOP, Samuel said, over recognition elections for airline and railroad workers. “The Chamber of Commerce has finally dropped its opposition” to new rules for those elections, contained in the airport construction and modernization bill.  That legislation would create 80,000-100,000 jobs.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., has insisted that rules governing union recognition elections at airlines and railroads should force unions to win an absolute majority of all eligible voters at a worksite, with non-voters counted as “no” votes.

That was the rule until last year when, after pressure from the labor movement and its allies, the government changed it. The requirement in union elections now is the same as in any other election – the winner is determined by the majority of those who actually cast ballots.

Business and Mica fought the change, but with the 23rd temporary extension of the airport and airspace construction bill set to expire at the end of January, business seems to have given up. The question for congressional negotiators is if Mica will.

As for extending jobless benefits, “we and the Democrats are hopeful” that Congress will OK an extension before the benefits expire Feb. 29, Samuel said. He also said the Democrats are holding fast against cutting any major programs to pay for the cost – even though in the past, Congress did not require cuts elsewhere to pay for aiding the unemployed. The House GOP is insisting on cuts, at least so far.

If the GOP holds fast to its no-taxes-on-millionaires stand and the Democrats protect major programs, there could be a stalemate on jobless benefits, Samuel concedes. “But the Republicans badly miscalculated” when the last benefits extension was debated in December that their no-taxes stand was a winner. Instead, they got a political black eye for protecting the rich at the expense of unemployed workers.

The two-year highway-mass transit bill, worth $106 billion plus inflation, still needs some details: Its mass transit sections are incomplete and so is its financing, outside of the federal gasoline tax. The measure would create tens of thousands of construction jobs and its passage is a major goal of building trades unions.

Once Senate panels finish drafting the measure, the Democratic-run Senate is expected to approve it, Samuel said. The problem is the GOP-run House, again. Mica earlier proposed a five-year bill with much less spending per year – so much less that Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan called Mica’s legislation a “job killer.”

Finally, the stop Internet piracy bill hit flak from Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Facebook, d Craigslist and millions of Internet users. All say it could lead to Internet censorship. Wikipedia and search engines dramatized the issue with a one-day ban on access on Jan. 18. Google set up a legislative link on its site.

By contrast, “Our affiliates see this as a jobs bill, for income for the stagehands, the artists, the actors, and the recording artists,” Samuel explained.

Obama’s spokesman has already said the jobless benefits extension will be the administration’s top legislative priority this year, and it will let other things go, though Samuel expects support for other job-creating legislation. The president intends to campaign against a GOP-run Congress that did nothing to create jobs, just as Democratic President Harry S. Truman ran in 1948 against a then do-nothing GOP-run Congress.

“It’ll be hard” for Obama “to do that if Congress does its job – which no one thinks it will,” Samuel says.

Photo: Unions have pushed hard for legislation that would create jobs and say they will continue that fight, despite the likelihood that the GOP will fight, tooth and nail, against such legislation.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).