For Obama Supporters, Time to Call In Favors

By Cindy Skrzycki
Friday, November 28, 2008

Whether it's workplace injuries, beer taxes or family leave, it's payback time for Obama supporters in the regulatory arena.

As the Jan. 20 inauguration draws near, groups that worked hard to put a Democrat in the White House are jockeying to be first in line to make suggestions on health and safety issues after waiting through eight years of Bush deregulation.

"There are huge expectations among those asking," said Sidney Shapiro, a law professor at Wake Forest University and a scholar at the Center for Progressive Reform, a nonprofit research group in Edgewater, Md. "There is a lot of pent-up demand because we have gone so long with the stars not being lined up the way they are."

Labor unions and even business lobbies are linking their wish lists to the new administration's focus on economic recovery. A group of public-interest organizations recommended changes to the regulatory review system that it had fought under President Bush.

The nation's brewers are trying to persuade the new leadership to cut the $3.7 billion federal excise tax on the 211 million barrels of beer produced in the United States last year. The tax is collected and policed by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

"We believe, based on who our customer is and the rhetoric in the campaign, that these are people who deserve a tax cut -- a tax cut on beer," said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute in Washington, which represents brewers, importers and suppliers.

Organized labor, after eight years of seeing workplace regulation virtually dry up, has a long list of initiatives that it sees as part of a vigorous economy.

"This is a unique moment in time," said Bill Samuel, director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO. "The public supports the revitalization of the union movement, and the party in power supports it." Member unions supplied 250,000 volunteer workers to aid Obama's election, an AFL-CIO spokesman said.

Labor's first priority is a federal law offering a card checkoff as an alternative to secret-ballot elections for union representation. Success would mean a series of new rules from the National Labor Relations Board. Another objective, a dead letter in the Bush administration, is protecting workers from repetitive-stress and heavy-lifting injuries in the workplace. A Clinton-era rule was nullified by a 2001 vote in Congress. That law says a similar rule can't be enacted, making the unions' path to a new ergonomics rule difficult.

"Ergonomics is an important, complicated issue," said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO director of safety and health. "There needs to be a lot of thought on how to move forward."

Business is stridently opposed to both labor goals.

"It will rival the battle over the Taft-Hartley Act," said Randel Johnson, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby, referring to the controversy surrounding the 1947 passage of the law, which restricted union actions.

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