What the Base is Saying About Obama: Labor

Lately, there has been a lot of people claiming to speak for the Democratic base - the progressive base.  Cenk Uygur, whom I took to task last week for his condescending attitude towards President Obama's political acumen, has penned another column now beating up on Rahm Emanuel.  There's been plenty of others beating up on the Obama administration for "abandoning" their base.

I will remind all of us one thing once: It is President Obama that is the leader of our party, and of our country.  Not Mr. Emanuel, and not Mr. Uygur.  So today, for once, let's find out what the base is actually saying about President Obama.  I think it's fair to say that the labor movement is about as close to the Democratic base as it gets.  Not only are they the reason for things we take for granted today - like the 40-hour workweek - if there is one value that unites Democrats east to west, north to south, it is the abiding belief that working Americans deserve a fair shot.

So those who make it a profession to nitpick and attempt to tear down this administration at every turn, I expect, are going to be surprised to hear what the labor movement has to say about President Obama and his administration.
President Obama has established an impressive record fighting for working families. He began by appointing strong pro-worker advocates to positions at the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board and other key departments and independent boards. He aggressively used his authority to issue executive orders and initiate rulemaking to reverse the anti-labor, anti-worker policies of the Bush administration. And he has pursued a bold legislative agenda on Capitol Hill, passing the largest economic stimulus in history, a health care reform bill that eluded previous Democratic presidents and the most sweeping reform of Wall Street since the Great Depression.
These are not my words.  These are words from a report published in July by the AFL-CIO, the country's largest coalition of organized labor.  If anyone has earned the right to speak for America's workers, AFL-CIO has.  And what do they have to say about this president is clear: he has fought for us, and now it is time for us to fight with him and the Democrats again to make sure that work, not just wealth, is rewarded in America.  It is time for us again to fight and to vote Democratic.

The AFL-CIO report breaks it down.

Economy and Jobs
The Obama administration proposed and got Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the largest economic stimulus in history. With Davis-Bacon wage protections and Buy American provisions to keep jobs in this country, the recovery act will save or create at least 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010.
This is no fantasy.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ARRA has already saved or created up to 3.3 million jobs as of the end of June.   A The same report also estimates that without ARRA, the unemployment rate would have been up to 1.8 percentage points higher, and GDP could be lower by 4.5%.  Just to give you an idea how much that is, consider this: the US GDP in 2009 was $14.14 trillion.  A 4.5% loss would be a loss of $636.3 billion in lost economic activity.  Another study conducted by economists Mark Zandy and Alan Blinder concluded that in ARRA had added 2.7 million jobs to the economy by March, and will raise the 2010 GDP by 3.4%.

There is in fact no doubt that the evidence points to the ARRA having pulled us back from the brink of another great depression.

Trade and Manufaturing
The Obama administration has taken major steps to bolster manufacturing and key industries.
  • The administration led the effort to save the domestic auto industry and enact the Cash for Clunkers program, committing $3 billion to encourage new car sales.
  • It imposed trade sanctions against China to stem disruptive imports of tires. President Bush had refused to accept any China safeguard cases during his eight years in office.
Again, no joke. Manufacturing in the United States was a dying industry when Barack Obama volunteered to take the helm of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.  In August, the US manufacturing sector experienced the 13th straight month of growth.  And this President stood up to China and imposed sanctions.

Health Care Reform

I have written at length about health reform and its implementation.  But now it's time to hear from the labor movement.  According to the AFL-CIO, working families are already starting to benefit from health reform.
Reform already is helping working families by ensuring (as of Sept. 23, 2010):
  • No annual caps on coverage;
  • If you get sick, you won’t lose your coverage;
  • Children can stay on their parents’ policy until they’re 26;
  • Children can’t be denied care because of a pre-existing condition; and
  • Insurance companies now must cover annual checkups and other preventive treatments.
In June, seniors who fell into the “donut hole” gap in Medicare’s prescription drug coverage were mailed $250 checks as part of the effort to bridge the gap in coverage; the donut hole will be closed in phases, and the legislation provides subsidies to plans with early retirees.
In addition, beginning next year, insurance companies will have to abide by tough new medical loss ratio (MLR) requirements: they must spend 85% of premium dollars on care in large group markets and 80% in small group and individual markets.  Even though most of the health reform law has yet to be fully implemented - especially the health insurance exchanges and the premium subsidies - these early benefits are nothing to sneeze at.  We are undeniably on a path that will force insurance companies to act more fairly, thanks to health care reform enacted by the Democratic Congress and President Obama.

Workers' Rights

Yes, we didn't get the Employee Free Choice Act passed.  But that doesn't mean that this President has sat idly by when it comes to protecting the rights of American workers.  President Obama's executive orders:
  • Prohibit federal contractors from using government funds to block union organizing;
  • Require federal contractors to post a notice informing workers of their right to form and join unions (reversing an earlier Bush notice requiring only the posting of the right not to join a union);
  • Encourage the use of Project Labor Agreements (reversing an earlier Bush ban on PLAs);
That's not all.  The Obama administration has put their money where their mouth is when it comes to labor rights.
[The Obama administration] directed the Federal Aviation Administration back to the bargaining table, resulting in a new collective bargaining agreement for air traffic controllers after several years of an imposed contract under the Bush administration.
President Obama has also made worker safety a top priority.
It proposed and won significant new funding for worker protection agencies and stepped up enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Wage and Hour Division, and restored and expanded a health and safety training grant program for workers.
These are not minor things.  It matters who is in the White House, and it matters who in Congress is backing them up.  It matters whether Congress is doing its best to help workers or to overturn the President's executive orders and administrative decisions protecting workers, as a potential Republican Congress will undoubtedly do.

Wall Street Reform:

It matters to America's workers who on Wall Street is watching after their 401Ks and retirement accounts.  The AFL-CIO knows the real benefits of financial reform:
To prevent another financial collapse, the Obama administration proposed and worked to pass the most comprehensive reform of the financial sector since the 1930s. The Restoring American Financial Stability Act is a major win for workers and the middle class over the forces of greed.
Wall Street reform sets up a strong and independent consumer protection bureau, regulates derivatives, gives regulators the power to liquidate troubled financial institutions before they become a systemic risk, forces mortgage lenders to keep a stake in their loans and ensure that the borrower has the ability to make their payments, and enacts an emergency loan program for unemployed homeowners.  AFL-CIO is smart enough to recognize these reforms as major steps forward.

All the progress we have made for working Americans, for children, for ordinary Americans who do extraordinary things will be at jeopardy if we let the Tea Party Republicans gain control in Washington.  I have said it before, and i will keep saying it until we all get it: we are on a difficult path forward, but we must make the choice to keep moving forward, however difficult it may be, rather than to turn the clock back.