World and Nation

Labor leaders have Obama’s back and are ready to push

Having helped President Barack Obama win re-election, labor leaders will meet with him Tuesday and intend to offer their robust support for what they view as his mandate: Stand tough against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and keep pushing to raise taxes on the wealthy.

As the administration begins intensive negotiations with congressional Republicans this week to modify a range of tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to go into effect next year, the unions say they will rally their forces to counter business and conservative groups that are pushing for cuts in social programs and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals.

“We expect to have the president’s back on the agenda that the voters just declared support for,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $75 million in backing Obama and various Democrats this year. “The president has always said he needs a movement behind his mandate.”

Obama has talked of going beyond the Beltway to stir up support for his plans, including increasing taxes on households with incomes of more than $250,000. Union leaders have made clear that they are happy to turn out the troops to — in a tactic from the Franklin D. Roosevelt era — “make him do it.” Union members held rallies in 100 communities Thursday as a first step in promoting the president’s budget plan.

Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, said, “We agree with the president that tax rates for the wealthiest 2 percent need to go up to provide revenues to invest in jobs, education, infrastructure, and training.”

Organized labor’s emphasis on broader policy, rather than union-specific legislation, is somewhat of a change from 2008.

When Obama was first elected, labor pushed for the stimulus bill and health care legislation, but also sought a host of more specific bills, such as the so-called card check bill. Card check would make it easier to unionize workers by allowing a union to win recognition by persuading a majority of a workplace’s employees to sign cards saying they favor unionization instead of having to go through an often lengthy campaign and secret ballot election.

Card check was blocked by Republicans in Congress, and with that party controlling the House of Representatives, it seems unlikely to return as an issue this year.

“When you look at how close the election returns were, the president did benefit substantially from organized labor,” said Charles B. Craver, a labor law expert at George Washington University. “The question now is, will he do anything, can he do anything for labor? If he tries, the Republicans will block it.”

After Obama’s first victory, the International Association of Firefighters pushed Congress to enact a bill that would grant firefighters and police officers the right to bargain collectively in all 50 states. But that effort fizzled.