In 2008, labor invested heavily in Obama’s presidential campaign, mobilizing millions of volunteers and raising millions of dollars for a candidate who pledged to support workers’ rights and vowed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act — a bill that would allow unions to organize employees through signed pledge cards, a big-ticket item on labor’s wish list. Obama also vowed to lace up “comfortable shoes” and work a picket line if the movement ever needed him.
The White House began patching frayed relations with its labor allies last summer, when the bridges it tried to build with Republicans and the business community weren’t leading to bipartisan breakthroughs or a fresh wave of private-sector hiring. Unions and their progressive allies had a long list of complaints: the lack of a public option in the health care law, unfilled seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Obama’s offer to strike a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction with House Speaker John Boehner.
During Obama's struggle with Congress over health care, labor was essential in the final days of the congressional vote to convincing unhappy liberals to support a bill even without a public option. In this election, labor will be integral in the handful of swing states that will determine the outcome. With heightened economic inequality and high rates of unemployment, unions have the ability to have even greater resonance with the electorate.
On Tuesday, the AFL-CIO started off its campaign season in a familiar way: endorsing the Democratic candidate Barack Obama. What's shifting, though, is how it plans to participate.
Labor unions have long been a powerful force in Democratic Party politics, primarily in mobilizing their millions of members to turn out at the polls. But this year, labor unions say the mobilization could prove even more powerful, despite recent years of unprecedented -- and largely successful -- attacks from conservative politicians, waning membership and declining public support.
All in all, union workers provide a substantial bloc of support for Obama's re-election efforts, although their impact on the presidential race will be limited by their size -- just about 12% of employed voters are union members -- and the fact that a sizable minority support Romney. Still, in crucial battleground states this fall, the vote and efforts of even small groups may end up making a difference.
A majority of union members say they would vote for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race, although their support is by no means monolithic. While 57% of union workers who are registered to vote would support Obama, 35% would vote for Mitt Romney. Workers who are not union members tilt toward Romney over Obama, 48% to 44%.
Ensure Freedom to Unionize:Obama believes that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Obama cosponsored and is strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize.
Fight Attacks on Workers’ Right to Organize: Obama fought the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) efforts to strip workers of their right to organize. He is a cosponsor of legislation to overturn the NLRB’s “Kentucky River” decisions classifying hundreds of thousands of nurses & workers as “supervisors” who are not protected by federal labor laws.
And that’s true for public employees as well. Look, the recession had a terrible effect on state and local budgets -- we all understand that. Unions have recognized that; they’ve already made tough concessions. In the private sector, we live in a more competitive global economy -- so unions like the UAW understand that workers have to work with management to revamp business models, to innovate so we can sell our products around the world. We understand that the world is changing; unions understand that the world is changing. Unions understand they need to help drive the change, whether it’s on the factory floor, or in the classroom, or in the government office.
Now, the fact is, our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits. (Applause.) Our economy is stronger when we've got broad-based growth and broad-based prosperity. That’s what unions have always been about -- shared prosperity.