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Unions Push Jobs, ‘Green’ Bills for Lame Duck Congress

David Moberg Nov 17, 2010

“This [mid-term] election was about jobs,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said earlier today, as Congress started what may be a busy and heated lame duck session. “It was not a mandate for [presumptive future Republican Speaker of the House] John Boehner’s America.”

Unions want action even in this short session on major job-related issues, such as ending Bush tax cuts for the rich without compromise and continuing federal unemployment insurance benefits to workers unemployed for half year or more.

Dismissing budget deficit obsession now as dangerous, Trumka rejects the proposed deficit reduction plan from Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the fiscal commission appointed by Obama, as a “millstone for our economy,” dragging down a still sluggish economy.

“Before we talk about deficits, we have a jobs crisis,” Trumka says. The deficit looms as a mid- to-long-term problem, he says, but not only is unemployment an immediate problem, putting people in jobs is a crucial step towards reducing deficits.  As people get jobs–or at least retain their jobless benefits–they buy things that spur growth and tax revenue for government. And Trumka recommends that serious deficit reduction should not start until the official unemployment rate drops to 5 or 6 percent, not 9.6 percent as it is now.

In addition to offering AFL-CIO backing for saving middle-income tax cuts and maintaining long-term unemployment benefits, Trumka ticked off a list of labor-backed proposals, many already passed by the House and awaiting Senate action:

infrastructure improvements (especially through renewal of appropriations for laws such as the Clean Water Act and Surface Transportation Act), though this action might have to wait until next year;

  • Dream Act, making it easier for undocumented immigrant youth to go to college;
  • anti-outsourcing legislation;
  • funding for renewable energy technology;
  • legislation mandating the Chinese government to end currency manipulation or face sanctions;
  • aid to state and local governments.

Perhaps reflecting the sobering results of the mid-term and Democratic despair (even though the balance of power in the lame duck session changes by only one Senate seat switching from D to R), Trumka did not propose bold, new plans, like a second stimulus package or a major plan for direct creation of public service jobs. Justified as bigger proposals might be, even labor’s more limited goals will be hard to achieve.

Most observers long ago wrote the obituary for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help workers form a union more easily. But Senate labor committee chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) earlier proposed bringing the bill–or parts of it–to a vote during the lame duck session

“It’s a critical part of economic recovery to put more money in the pockets of working Americans,” by helping them organize and bargain with employers, Trumka says. “We’ll continue to push for it. We’ll look for every possible vehicle to do it.” Success would require some shift in the willingness of Senators to take political flack, now that the mid-terms are over, but after barely surviving a primary battle with labor over her lack of support for EFCA, will defeated Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) suddenly be a friend of unions?

In the crush of urgent business, Congress may not have to vote on a trade agreement this fall, since Obama couldn’t reach a satisfactory resolution of differences on his Asia trip. Trumka praised the President for having “stood tough” on a Korean trade deal and in general for having enforced U.S. trade laws. Although the Korean trade pact is now “woefully short of being acceptable,” he says, “we’ll look at it” in its final form to judge if it’s acceptable.

While Trumka gave quick, generic labor support for green technology and infrastructure spending to create jobs, the BlueGreen Alliance—bringing together nine unions and four environmental organizations–offered a more detailed list for the lame ducks of Washington of bills that would increase energy efficiency of the American economy (now only half as efficient as most of Europe and Japan), reduce global warming, cut dependence on foreign energy, and create good, new jobs.

“We have here a terrific opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan fashion to create jobs,” Steelworkers president Leo Gerard says. “It’s imperative Congress get to work on job creation. Republicans have done everything they could to stop job creation.”

The Alliance proposes “Seven Simple Steps,” including a national renewable electricity standard (as 29 states have done), Home Star and Building Star residential/commercial building efficiency investment (creating 200,000 jobs), the Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit, mine safety reform, loans for manufacturing advanced technology vehicles, and more loans for clean water infrastructure.

These proposals offer a multiple bottom line–better products, improved environment, decent jobs, more efficient and competitive domestic businesses–and are popular as well. In the mid-term election, Californians handily defeated Proposition 23, which would have undermined an ambitious state plan for efficiency and climate protection.

The BlueGreen Alliance plan may not be big enough to solve the jobless problem, but it’s an important contribution from a promising, four-year old coalition that deserves wide support.

This article was originally published on Working in These Times.

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