Last night, the American people voted to give Barack Obama and Joe Biden a second term in the White House. In another round of good news, the Democrats were also able to maintain a Senate majority. In the hard-fought race for the Massachusetts Senate, Elizabeth Warren was able to unseat Republican Scott Brown. Ms. Warren’s pro-transit and pro-worker leanings will likely yield many happy returns for the working men and women of Massachusetts.
He Didn’t do it Alone
The President reached the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the election when the voting results from Ohio came in and propelled the President past the 270 mark. Ohio was a much discussed swing State crucial for the candidates to win. Ohio has a long and proud manufacturing tradition and has a unionization rate greater than most other States in the Union. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, 13.4% of state’s workers belong to unions. Nationally, 11.8% of workers belong to unions. Labour union in the State canvassed heavily for the President.
Labour unions are a fairly reliable voting base for the Democrats, but Democrats rely on labour unions for more than their votes. Labour unions traditionally help to get-out-the-vote for the Democratic candidate, and the unions in Ohio during this election didn’t disappoint. In Ohio, union efforts to help the President to win re-election were even more pronounced during this election cycle. Last year, Ohio union members fought to overturn an anti-labour Bill known as Senate Bill 5. Senate Bill 5 aimed to roll back the collective bargaining rights for a large contingent of Ohio’s public service workers. Mitt Romney had expressed support of the Bill. In part due to union opposition efforts, voters rejected the Bill. Senate Bill 5, coupled with Republican support of legislation that weakens the bargaining power of unions, and other anti-labour sentiments expressed by Romney, are some of the many reasons that the fervour of unionized support for the President was so apparent and helped to grant the President re-election.
What Does This Mean For Unions?
The re-election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States has several important, and positive, implications for unions. The most notable of which are:
1. Support for the Right to Organize
President Obama supports the rights of workers to organize. He supported the Employees Free Choice Act, which is an effort to empower workers to organize. The purpose of the Act was:
To amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.
Unfortunately, after great debate the Bill was referred to Committee and essentially died. Despite this outcome, however, we see the President’s strong interest in supporting the labour unions.
2. Support for Labour Law Protections
On September 29, 2006, under former President George Bush, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made a series of decisions colloquially called the “Kentucky River” cases. These decisions classify certain workers as supervisors. The effect of classifying these workers as supervisors was to both remove them from the protection of the National Labour Relations Act and to remove any requirement to include these workers in private sector bargaining units. Current President Barack Obama has fought against these decisions in order to protect and preserve the rights of the many workers these decisions adversely impact.
3. Support for the Right to Strike
Since 1938, employers in America have had the right to permanently replace workers if the workers strike for an economic reason. Striking for better wages is an example of a common economic reason to strike. President Obama has stated that he would work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers.
4. Protection of Fair Labour Standards
According to the Washington Times, Labor Department officials in the US have recommended removing the “companionship exemption” from the Fair Labor Standards Act(FSLA). The FSLA exempts from minimum wage and overtime pay obligations many home care workers who provide “companionship services for individuals who because of age or infirmity are unable to care for themselves. President Obama has backed the proposal of the Labor Department, saying of home health care workers: “They deserve to be treated fairly. They deserve to be paid fairly for a service that many older Americans couldn’t live without.”
While President Obama’s support for unions has been challenged and at times thwarted by fierce opposition, the President’s strong support cannot but help the unions. According to the opinion of many, Obama is the greatest ally labour unions have had in the White House in several decades. The president has shown support for making organizing easier, and has been instrumental in seeing that the government’s principal labor-relations agency has been filled with individuals sympathetic to labour unions and the labour movement. If the past four years have been any guide, America can expect the next four years to be spent with a President who continues to show great support for the unions.
We congratulate President Obama and Joe Biden and all the candidates that participated in these elections. We especially congratulate the unions in Ohio and across America for taking bold pro-active steps to help Obama to be re-elected and protect the interests of their members. Not only is this a victory for the Obama team, this is a victory for all Americans who support unions and believe in the labour movement.