With a split Congress set to take office in the wake of the Nov. 2 elections, labor unions are setting their legislative agenda firmly on an issue they believe members of all parties can rally behind: jobs.
Passing the overdue highway-transit bill will be a major focus for organized labor.
With Republicans' taking control of the House and increasing their number of seats in the Senate in 2011, another top labor-related bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, faces even longer odds than it did this year.
That bill has been a top priority of organized labor, but has drawn strong opposition from congressional Republicans, construction contractor groups and other business organizations.
With construction sector unemployment still stubbornly high, estimated at 17.2% in September, job creation has been a critical focus for labor unions throughout the recession.
Following the post-election shakeup in Congress, union leaders concede that job creation is their best bet to find common ground on Capitol Hill.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters on Nov. 3 that the election "was about jobs, plain and simple. It was a mandate to fix the economy and create jobs."
Unions are focusing particularly on pushing for a new multi-year surface transportation bill.
Terry O'Sullivan, General President of the laborers' union, said in a post-election statement: "The best way for the next Congress to start to show that America is [its] priority is to pass a fully-invested, six-year surface transportation bill which would begin to put our nation back on competitive footing in the world, return millions of Americans to work and leave a lasting legacy for taxpayers and future generations."
David Miller, a spokesman for the laborers' union, notes that even before the election, top congressional lawmakers such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that a highway bill would be acted on in 2011.
"It's a bill that every congressional district benefits from," Miller adds.
Meanwhile, more contentious labor-specific issues could see little or no action in Congress in 2011, says Geoff Burr, the Associated Builders and Contractors' vice president of federal affairs.
One key example is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier for unions to organize workers at companies. ABC and other opponents of the measure have labeled it the "card check bill."
There was little activity on the measure in the current Congress.
"The Employee Free Choice Act was already dead, now it's about ten times deader," Burr says.
Labor leaders concede that some issues such as EFCA may fade from debate in the near term.
"We can put EFCA on the shelf for a while," says Jim Williams, president of the painters' union. "EFCA would have been great for us in a perfect world, but we're not in a perfect world these days. Employment is the priority."
Williams also notes that, given the high level of unemployment in the industry, he is hopeful that Congress can push through an extension of unemployment benefits.
Immigration, which has seen limited action this year, could be revived in the new Congress, says Kelly Knott, who handles human resources and labor relations legislative issues for the Associated General Contractors of America.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have led a bipartisan effort towards comprehensive immigration reform and Knott says they could revive the debate in the next Congress.
"It needs to be done and it will be up to the Senate to move first on it," she adds. "There will need to be a lot of leadership from the White House on the issue as well because it will be a tough issue with the change in the House."
Republican leaders have called for repealing the wide-ranging Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23. But Knott sees limited opportunities for changing that statute.
"I don't see how it could be repealed," she says. "The President is still in office and [opponents] don't have the numbers to overturn a veto. I see there being attempts to make changes. It's possible we could see some tweaks to the bill, but nothing sweeping."