Obama considers union leaders for administration posts

The times they are a changing!

As the most anti-labor president since Calvin Coolidge vacates the White House, the incoming administration is mulling over the names of labor leaders it is considering for many government slots. Although the unionists are not slated to get top-level Cabinet jobs, the posts they may end up filling are often ones where important policies are decided.

After some phone calls and checking with sources, Press Associates and the Peoples Weekly World can confirm that at least seven leading trade unionists, including two former union presidents and one current union president, are being considered for jobs in the Obama administration. A major portion of the names are of unionists in the area of transport, but the list is far from complete.

Among those confirmed as under consideration for key posts are Linda Foley, former Newspaper Guild president, Duane Woerth, former Airline Pilots Association president, and Robert Scardelletti, current president of the Transportation Communications Union.

Scardelletti, who has been president of his union since 1991, is being considered for a seat on the Amtrak Board. His Transportation Communications Union represents thousands of Amtrak workers and is part of a coalition of rail unions that recently reached a new contract with the nation’s freight railroads. Scardelletti started his career as a yard clerk in Cleveland.

Woerth is being considered for a position as the Federal Aviation Agency administrator. During his union career he became familiar with the FAA’s problems, especially with safety issues and with the loss of experienced air traffic controllers resulting from a contract imposed upon the National Air Traffic Controllers Association by the Bush administration.

Foley is being considered to head the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau. She has a long record of campaigning for workers’ rights, against media concentration and for diversity in U.S. newsrooms.

Benetta Mansfield is being considered for the position of director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. She is currently chief of staff for Warren George, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Mansfield ran into trouble when, prior to her current position, she served as chief of staff for the National Mediation Board and acted as a whistleblower against a Bush-appointed board member who abused his office. She was wrongly fired for this activity last June. When staff attorneys at the federal office established to protect whistleblowers recommended her reinstatement, they too were let go by the Bush administration.

Joseph Szabo, Illinois state director of the United Transportation Union, now part of the Sheet Metal Workers union, is being considered to head the Federal Railroad Administration. The Federal Railroad Administration sets safety standards for all the nation’s rail lines.

Szabo has strongly criticized the Bush administration for allowing freight trains to operate with only one worker, the engineer, and for allowing unmanned “robot” trains to operate in freight yards. Many municipalities have joined the unions in opposing these practices as safety hazards.

Dan Elliot, assistant general counsel of the Cleveland-based United Transportation Union, is being considered for a seat on the Surface Transportation Board. This board is the re-named Interstate Commerce Commission, which oversees rail mergers.

Mitch Kraus, general counsel for the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks, is being considered for a seat on the same board. The BRAC is part of the Transportation Communications Union.

The Senate will have to confirm all these nominations.

While most of the media attention has been on the incoming president’s appointments to Cabinet positions, Obama will be naming more than 3,000 people to top posts in Cabinet departments, government agencies, the National Labor Relations Board, and numerous commissions. All Cabinet seats are filled except for Commerce Secretary. Obama’s original nominee for that position, New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew. Although none of Obama’s Cabinet appointees are trade unionists, several, including Labor Secretary-designate Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), have close ties to unions.

----- Press Associates contributed to this story.