With their candidates taking control of the federal government in January, building trades unions are looking for quick action on key issues, first among them project labor agreements.
Union officials expect that the Obama administration will rescind the Bush administration’s 2001 executive order barring agencies from requiring project labor agreements for federal projects. While campaigning President-elect Barack Obama vowed to return such agreements to federal contracting.
Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors, says he expects the new executive order will be one of Obama’s first acts as president.
On the federal legislative front, the Employee Free Choice Act will be the unions’ priority, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told reporters at a Nov. 5 press conference. As senators, Obama and vice president-elect Joe Biden were co-sponsors of that bill, whose provisions would make it easier for unions to organize non-union workers. Last year, the measure cleared the House, but was stalled in the Senate when the bill’s advocates fell nine votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate on the legislation. Democrats picked up six seats in the Senate on Nov. 4, but failed to reach the critical 60-seat mark.
Nevertheless, Sweeney says, “We believe the majority of the members of Congress have committed themselves to supporting the Employee Free Choice Act,” he says. “It remains to be seen what strategy we will use in Senate and House.”
In the coming weeks, AFL-CIO leaders also hope to discuss the future makeup of the National Labor Relations Board, which Sweeney claims has been entirely “pro-employer” under the Bush administration.
Sweeney says that in the short-term he will look to Congress and the new administration to extend unemployment benefits, expand the food stamp program and offer a financial stimulus package to help struggling state and local governments continue with capital projects.
Longer-term goals include health-care reform and investing in a “new economy of green jobs, not financial bubbles,” Sweeney says.
The AFL-CIO made its biggest political canvassing effort ever during this year’s election cycle. An estimated 250,000 union volunteers reached out to 13 million union voters in 24 states, particularly key battleground states. In the four days leading up to the election, volunteers visited more than 3.9 million union homes, made 5.5 million calls and distributed more than 2 million leaflets at worksites. An AFL-CIO survey showed that union members voted 67% for Obama and 30% for the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.