Eight pro-worker changes may be coming

Post-election statements issued by the nation’s major labor federations, union press conferences, the Senate record of President-elect Barack Obama and bigger Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, taken together, indicate that in the coming period the labor movement is on the verge of winning as many as eight major legislative changes.

Topping the list is possible passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining.

The EFCA would automatically allow card check recognition of unions, increase fines for labor-law breaking, order arbitration if unions and employers cannot agree on a first contract in 120 days and simplify procedures for getting court orders to stop corporate dodging of labor law.

This new law will be difficult to win because it is expected to draw bitter and well-funded opposition from big business. At a Nov. 6 press conference the Chamber of Commerce dubbed the EFCA its top priority for defeat in the coming period.

The second priority for labor, even before the Obama administration takes over next January, is passage of a meaningful economic stimulus package when the current 110th Congress returns for a lame-duck session Nov. 17.

Unions want extension of federal unemployment benefits from the current 26 to 39 weeks, billions of dollars in spending for infrastructure projects – rebuilding highways, airports and bridges that would result in good-paying jobs – and extending aid to the states to deal with the rising costs of Medicaid. Medicaid has been hard hit by rising costs associated with the growing numbers of uninsured

A third priority for labor, when the new administration takes over, is legislation that reverses the. Supreme Court’s Lilly Ledbetter ruling, which virtually barred anyone from suing employers for pay discrimination based on sex – or any other factor – except within 180 days of being hired.

Labor-backed legislation overturning the Court’s Ledbetter ruling passed in the House this year but was killed by a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

A fourth priority is a new law that will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act and also, for the first time, enact paid family leave. A bill instituting seven days of paid leave passed the House Education and Labor Committee this year but failed to go further.

Fifth on labor’s list is a law that would overturn a ruling by President Bush that barred airport screeners from unionizing. Unions that represent government workers have already been assured by Obama that he will allow what they consider the anti-labor National Security Personnel System, imposed by Bush on Department of Defense workers, die when its renewal comes up next year.

Sixth is a bill called the Respect Act. It would overturn a National Labor Relations Board ruling that allowed millions of workers to lose the protection of labor law by re-classifying them as “supervisors.”

A seventh priority for labor is to ask the incoming Obama administration to reverse the government’s refusal to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to bargain a new contract with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

A five-year agreement between the FAA and the union was reached in 1998 during the Clinton administration but was not renewed by Bush who was president in 2003 when it expired. Instead, Bush imposed longer hours, wage freezes and cuts. Since then controllers have been retiring en-masse, causing air traffic problems across the nation.

Patrick Forrey, president of the controllers union, said, after the election, “Our workforce has been in crisis, attacked and disrespected by an anti-union administration. But change is coming. It is imminent. We will be there to welcome, embrace and escort it as we work together for a safer, more efficient system. No longer will the employees at the FAA be treated like the enemy.”

An eighth priority for labor will be fair trade. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Steel Workers President Leo Gerard held a joint press conference recently where they predicted a new push for the labor-backed Trade Act. That measure, introduced this year, would set new rules for U.S. trade pacts, ordering trade bargainers to write enforceable labor standards into the texts of any proposed law.