The AFL-CIO launched an unprecedented drive today for sweeping changes in the nation's labor laws, backed by a union war chest of more than $800,000 to win congressional approval of the program.
The package includes revision of the National Labor Relations Act to make it easier for unions to organize workers and negotiate contracts, and proposals for a higher minimum wage, tighter strip-mine controls, expanded picketing rights on construction sites, more use of U.S.-manned vessels to import foreign oil, federally mandated collective bargaining rights for public employees and agriculture workers, and removal of the Hatch Act's ban on politicking by federal workers.
Some of the goals, such as repeal of state right-to-work laws, have been sought for years, but AFL-CIO spokesman Albert J. Zack said that, as a package, the changes are the most ambitious and wide-ranging to be submitted by labor to Congress since passage of the landmark Wagner Act in 1935.
The drive was prompted in large part, labor officials said, by the presence of a Democratic President as well as large Democratic majorities in Congress and by pent-up frustrations over what the AFL-CIO regards as pro-industry bias in the nation's labor laws that was reinforced by presidential vetoes during the Ford administration.
In disclosing the campaign at the midwinter meeting of the federation's Executive Council here, AFL-CIO President George Meany said President Carter will not be asked to lobby for the program in Congress.
Signaling acceptance of Carter's reluctance to fight for some of labor's goals, such as right-to work repeal. Meany said he will intercede with the White House only if Carter indicates opposition.
"I have no reason to believe that he would be unhappy about these changes. I don't look for vetoes . . ." Meany told a news conference.
Carter said during the campaign that he would sign legislation repealing authority for right-to-work laws and expanding picketing rights, but stopped short of advocating such action.
The AFL-CIO will raise its war chest by assessing each of its 14.2 million members 1 cent a month for six months - a procedure that has never been used before for a legislation campaign, according to Zack. He said the money will finance the work of a special eight-member task force to lobby for passage of the package.
Labor will run into a well-financed opposition on Capitol Hill, including the National Right to Work Committee, which is attempting to raise $5 million this year, with $1 million ear-marked for the right-to-work fight, according to Huck Walther, director of that committee's membership services.
Meany, acknowledging the opposition, said, "our timetable in this area is infinity," he said.
The council said it will propose legislation to expediate union representative elections, to enable unions to get injunctions against interference with organizing activities and refusal to bargain and to ban government contracts with firms that violate labor laws.
It will also mount a new campaign to repeal the highly controversial Section 14(B) of the Taft-Hartley Act, under which 20 states have enacted right-to-work laws prohibiting collective bargaining agreements that require workers to join a union. The last major effort to repeal 14(B) succumbed to a Senate filibuster in 1965.
The minimum wage proposal calls for raising the wage floor from $2.30 to $3 an hour, with automatic increases in the future to keep the minimum equivalent to 60 per cent of average hourly earnings in manufacturing. It does not include a provision for a lower minimum for teenagers, which may industries favor but the AFL-CIO says would be discriminatory
Under the common site picketing proposal, which was vetoed last year by President Ford, a union could picket and thus shut down an entire construction site even if the dispute was with only one subcontractor.
While advocating full collective bargaining rights for all public employees, the AFL-CIO Executive Council conceded that a recent Supreme Court decision has cast doubt over Congress' right to legislate for state and local government employees.
For the time being it suggested that all federal grant programs contain a proviso that recipients must agree to bargain with their employees. Meany flatly rejected inclusion of a no-strike rule in public bargaining legislation.