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The Future of Workers' Rights

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OBAMA'S VIEWS AT A GLANCE

There are few surprises here. Barack Obama broadly supports expanding labor's right to organize, including the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to form unions by simply collecting signatures from a majority of the workforce. He also supports raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.

THE OBAMA AGENDA, IN DETAIL

Barack Obama supports labor's right to organize on several fronts. He co-sponsored (along with nearly every other Senate Democrat) the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow a card check (the signatures of a majority of the workforce) to determine whether a union is formed, replacing the secret ballot. He would "fight attacks on workers' rights to organize," especially at the National Labor Relations Board. He also supports a ban on permanently replacing striking workers.

Additionally, Obama would raise (pdf file, right-click to save) the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and index it to inflation. He backs expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act. Obama would require companies that wrongly classify employees as independent contractors to pay back taxes. He would beef up the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and improve whistleblower protection. He supports legislation to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work and to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Obama Record: Obama is endorsed by every major union, and rates highly on labor's legislative scorecards. Conversely, the Alliance For Worker Freedom, an organization dedicated to the "promotion of free and open labor markets," has rated Obama at the bottom of the Senate in each of the three years he's served there.

Obama introduced the Independent Contractor Proper Classification Act of 2007, which would make it harder for companies to classify employees as independent contractors and make it easier for the government to collect back taxes when they do. He has co-sponsored or backed other legislative efforts on behalf of workers, including bills to strengthen health and safety protection, overturn recent NLRB decisions, and a bi-partisan effort to extend the right to organize to public safety workers.

DOES IT MATTER?

Probably not. Though proponents of the Employee Free Choice Act call their bill "bipartisan," the Republican caucus was nearly united in its effort to filibuster the bill in the Senate. (Only Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted in favor of ending debate.) Even having picked up five seats in the November, Democrats are still not likely to succeed in bringing the bill up for a vote.

The National Federation of Independent Business has several other legislative priorities that reflect a general wariness toward government mandates on employers. With the exceptions described above, the president-elect has not had much to say about these, which would suggest that despite the efforts of the labor movement, there will be little movement on these issues on Capitol Hill.

In the face of Congressional inaction, however, there are a couple places where the candidates' positions do matter: the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board. Obama promises to "ensure that his labor appointees support workers' rights."

Last updated: Sep 8, 2008




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