The labor movement would expect a John Kerry administration to repeal what officials called President Bush's anti-union executive orders, to push for and sign a sweeping bill to make organizing easier and to discard new overtime regulations that went into effect Monday.
John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said during a meeting with Washington Post reporters and editors yesterday that his 13 million-member organization is focused on helping Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), win the November presidential election. "We have a very good relationship with both senators and their voting record speaks for itself in support for working-families' issues," Sweeney said.
He and aides cited several examples of what they called the Bush administration's hostility toward workers. Among them was a presidential directive Bush signed during his first month in office requiring federal contractors to post signs, alerting workers they have a right to refuse paying union dues that are used for political purposes.
The new overtime rule, which generated months of political wrangling, was "an attempt by the administration to give to his big supporters [in] corporate America what they have been looking for for a long time," Sweeney said.
The Bush administration changed the way overtime is calculated, saying the rules were outdated and needed clarifying. The AFL-CIO said as many as 6 million people would lose their right to overtime pay, something the administration disputes.
Sweeney said the union federation will measure how many people lose overtime protection. The full effects of the rule might not be seen until contracts expire and unions have to renegotiate benefits like overtime pay, officials said.
A Kerry administration would be a boon to organized labor, Sweeney said, noting that Kerry and Edwards support the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to sign a card authorizing a vote to unionize. The measure would increase penalties for employers that try to interfere in employees' attempts to unionize. The bill has 207 co-sponsors in the House and 32 co-sponsors in the Senate.
"Organizing, next to politics, has to be our number one priority," Sweeney said. In the past few years, unions within the AFL-CIO organized about half a million people a year, he said, but "that hasn't kept up with the job loss, and it's certainly not enough."
His goal is to start organizing 1 million new members a year. "I think we need to strengthen the areas that go into organizing campaigns. The strategy has to continue to change as changes take place in the workplace."
Sweeney, 70, has been president of the AFL-CIO since 1995 and said he plans to run for reelection next year. Recently, his leadership has been criticized from within the labor movement. Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, told his union members that the AFL-CIO has not been effective in keeping up with a changing workplace. The AFL-CIO has little control over its 65 member unions and has not been effective at creating a powerful voice for labor, he said.
Sweeney agreed that the organization needs to reexamine its structure and said he invited his member unions to draw up plans for discussion after the presidential election.