The Obama administration is leading a huge comeback for labor by using two administration agencies to aggressively protect workers’ and unions’ rights.
The agencies in question are the National Labor Relations Board and the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. Both spent the past decade largely crippled by congressional obstruction, first from Democratic majorities and then from Republican ones. Now freed from those obstacles — at least for the moment — and operating under Democratic leadership impatient to make up for lost time, these agencies are promoting workers’ and unions’ rights more aggressively than Washington has witnessed in a generation. The changes seem part of a more general shift for the Obama administration — extending diplomatic recognition to Cuba being another — toward more progressive policies as it heads into its final two years.
The new activism of the Wage and Hour Division and especially the NLRB may well turn out to be fleeting. Both agencies benefited from a Senate filibuster rule change enacted late last year — partly in response to union pressure — that ended filibusters against most executive branch nominees. Weil, whose nomination the International Franchise Association termed “irresponsible and reckless,” was confirmed on a 51-42 party-line vote, and therefore couldn’t have taken office without the change. Weil became the first non-acting Wage and Hour administrator at the Labor Department in 10 years. Before that, confirming a permanent administrator was impossible either because Senate Democrats deemed Bush’s choices too lenient on business or because Senate Republicans deemed Obama’s choices too strict.
The Obama administration and the labor movement have kept quiet about these developments because nothing stirs up the Republican hornet’s nest quite like workers getting protected and paid. Republicans agree on very little, but hatred of unions is hardwired into their DNA. The NLRB decisions against major corporate employee rights violators like Walmart and McDonalds get the most attention, but there is progress being made beneath the surface that most people do not get to see.
The myth that President Obama isn’t progressive enough gets much of its fuel from some on the left who don’t know what is really going on. Obama is reversing decades of anti-worker decisions. The country has a president who is directing his Executive Branch to fight for the rights of everyone from voters to workers.
Obama’s efforts to benefits workers and unions are areas where his accomplishments may not be fully appreciated until after this president leaves office.