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The White House's troubled relationship with labor

The administration would probably be having an easier time getting unions to sign on to an excise tax compromise if the unions felt that the administration was fighting for them on, well, anything. Instead, card check seems dead, and the White House let Republicans (and a few Democrats) filibuster Craig Becker, the pro-labor lawyer that unions wanted to see on the National Labor Relations Board. Becker got 52 votes anyway, but there's been no talk of a recess appointment.

It's hard to ask your allies to take a hit for you if you're never willing to throw a punch for them.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 17, 2010; 5:16 PM ET
 
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Next: Evan Bayh comes out against the filibuster

Comments

Very true. It seems that Obama just doesn't like throwing punches. He didn't do it during the campaign either. But what worked for him during the campaign now appears to many of us as ideologically unmoored, exasperating and wasteful timidity. I at times feel quite taken for granted.

Posted by: simmonslcsw | February 17, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Of course he doesn't.
They're on the left.
EVERYONE knows we need to move to the right.
Always and forever.

Posted by: adamiani | February 17, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Part of a larger systemic problem, yes?

Posted by: scarlota | February 17, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

It hard for me to see through the wall of White House message control, but it seems clear from a few real journalists that Obama's A team is very small, and very insulated. Rahm, Valerie Jarret, et. al.

I wonder who they think is going to raise the enthusiasm and small amount donations for O's reelection. It isn't just the unions that are ignored, but the general aura that 'lefties' are crazy. They will regret that deeply when the time comes.

Perhaps they think the GOP will nominate a real crazy (think Palin or someone acceptable to the all-white tea partiers), and the voters won't have a choice between sentient candidates.

I seem to recall that you, Ezra, (or someone else who isn't blinded by partisanship) that points out that Obama has a partisan team instead of a policy team. That sounds right until one realizes that even the partisan team has a deaf ear to major discontent in the Dem. party base.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | February 17, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

This is a good encapsulation of Obama's troubled relationship with *several* of his core constituencies.

It's almost as though Obama genuinely lacks passion feeling regarding the core policy issues/constituencies of the Democratic party.

I'm convinced he wants is genuinely concerned about saving the economy and improving the job market situation, but he also knows that his job depends on that.

Posted by: constans | February 17, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Obama's refusal to move on Becker is disappointing but I hope the unions keep in mind that EFCA was really torpedoed by the Senate. I would not be surprised if SEIU et al just kept their members home later this year, nor could I blame them. And it wouldn't really matter because, as we've seen, nothing seems to change in the Senate between 51-60 votes. As long as Lieberman, Nelson, etc... hold the balance of power, a slim Dem majority functions exactly the same way as a big one. When the Democrats are just taking a pass on your agenda, it's not like the Republicans are that much of a threat.

But that logic DOESN'T hold for the presidency. It's about the only place in American politics where the old "the other guys are scarier than us" argument still makes sense. "No NLRB rep" is a much better result than "an NLRB member appointed by a Republican." So I hope they can still get their members out for Obama in 2012. But Blanche Lincoln? Let her rot.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 17, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

throw your most loyal allies under the bus...I really don't understand why Obama wants to alienate his base. Why not a recess appt for the NLRB. Bush did it twice, and no repiglican squealed...

Posted by: srw3 | February 17, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I have to disagree here. Remember the auto bailouts? If there one thing that probably saved the US from falling into a great depression it was these bailouts, coupled with the bank bailouts and the recovery act.

It's stunning to me that Obama gets very little credit for this from the left. Every union card holder in the midwest owes their continued employment to Obama. Without this auto bailout, countless suppliers would also have gone bankrupt, so it wouldn't just be thousands of auto workers losing their jobs.

Obama's team also did this in a prepackaged bankruptcy that was VERY favorable to the UAW. Conservatives were furious, and now we're seeing that liberals and the unions hardly said thank you.

Posted by: gorlando1 | February 17, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

That's true - it seems like that auto bailouts are the big forgotten policy achievement of the administration.

Without them, several million more jobs would have been lost, the UAW, as you said, got very favorable terms, and, moreover, the policies actually seemed to have worked quite well. It was a very clean, very successful policy.

Yet it's completely unmentioned these days, and it's enormously unpopular. The left forgot about it, and the right and middle hate it. And nobody talks about it anymore.

Posted by: Isa8686 | February 17, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Obama has been good for labor on the auto bailouts and in reg areas like OSHA, however, it seems to me that a recess appointment to the NLRB is a no-brainer. It is cost-free and would please labor, and make it easier for them to accept the excise tax. I understand the insularity of his staff advisers, but maybe Biden could get through to him on this. I think it also may be that Obama really believes that this type of recess appointment is not what the Constitution had in mind, but that ship has clearly sailed.

Posted by: gregspolitics | February 17, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Really good comments, all of 'em.

Posted by: scarlota | February 17, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Labor's upset? Really?....The labor leaders get more "access" to this whitehouse than anyone else (see Whitehouse visitor records)...They got TWO major auto companies turned OVER to them (see GM and Chysler restructure agreements)...This President has stood up for labor manufacturers with China (see US/China tire trade dispute)...In reality, labor unions have done fairly well during the past year, considering we're in a "global economy" and our labor costs put us at a constant disadvantage. Obama garnered nearly 70 million votes in 2008. An overwhelming majority of those voters were not labor party activists. You want to know why "labor unions" are dying in this country? They simply refuse to accept the limits of their entitlements!

Posted by: TruthHurts2 | February 17, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget that Craig Becker is eminently qualified to serve on tne NLRB, and management lawyers have been appointed all the time -- working for a union is no different than working at a management law firm in terms of qualifications.

Becker has taught labor law at Georgetown,
UCLA and the University of Chicago. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale College and received his J.D. from Yale Law School. He has argued labor and employment cases in almost every federal court of appeals and before the United States Supreme Court.

Obama should recess-appoint Becker and Mark Pearce to the NLRB.

Posted by: kaylamom1 | February 17, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Most unions regard the White House, i.e. Obama, as dysfunctional. Their views are quite detailed as for what Obama wrought. For instance, their view on his health care reform is: he pissed of women (on abortion), Hispanics (illegals will not be covered) and us, the union (Cadillac plan taxes). He basically pissed off most of his constituents. Great work Bama!

As for the new story about the team that isolates him, that's besides the point and a useless argument. Obama has no clear vision, no dedication to our goals and shies away from confrontations; none of this has anything to do with his hired hand.

Posted by: lakesea | February 18, 2010 6:26 AM | Report abuse

My guess is that _most_ union members are not in the auto industry. It's not just the UAW that's an issue here. It's the SEIU and others that are concerned about the attention they're getting from the Obama administration. So maybe the UAW did well compared to what could have happened, but union interests go beyond simply auto manufacturing.

Posted by: tyromania | February 18, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

For crissakes, Obama bailed out the UAW in a horribly unpopular deal. If that's all Labor ever gets from him, it's more than enough. Labor needs Obama more than Obama needs Labor. That's the fact that Labor doesn't want to realize

Posted by: mbp3 | February 18, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Many, including the pro-labor comments, are talking about this as if labor unions don't represent anyone. Good for the workers of the UAW, but we want Obama to represent all working families! A full NLRB is important to continually establish the bar that all employers have to read for to stop their workers from organizing. Real health care is important to all workers to ensure they live prosperous lives. Another stimulus will help every person in every community by keeping more firefighters and teachers working.

The employee free choice act will benefit those who wish to organize. If you don't want to organize then don't, but don't say that unions should sit idly by while corporate america steals houses from their employees who want a voice. Recently I saw it took the NLRB 3 months to reinstate a worker and the first thing I thought was "Wow that was fast." That's not FAST, it's painfully slow.

You're right, Obama won't punch because he knows the republicans have nothing that can compete with him, but everyone who reads this can get started locally, and you can do it now. Here in Pittsburgh we just passed a prevailing wage bill even though the mayor veto'd it.

Posted by: PittBandit | February 18, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

SCARLOTA, WAS THAT A "SESTIMIC PROBLEM'' or a ""SEPTIC"" PROBLEM.

Posted by: otisplumber | February 18, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

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