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Barack Obama won labor support. Now labor seeks his support

November 14, 2008 |  9:16 am

Barack Obama might not be president-elect without the tens of millions of dollars that organized labor spent on his behalf.

Now, a union-backed organization is hoping to hold Obama to one of his promises. It's launching an early salvo in what could be a major fight at the start of the new administration.

Barack Obama speaks to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members in San Francisco. Although somewhat arcane, the issue involves the method unions use to organize workers. Organized labor views it as a pivotal to its survival. Business led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is preparing for a major lobby battle.

The group, American Rights at Work, plans to start airing its new ad on Sunday, hoping to build support for the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation authored by Rep. George Miller, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee.

American Rights at Work was founded by David Bonior, a former Democratic congressman from Michigan. Now, Bonior is part of Obama’s economic transition team, and stood alongside various members from Wall Street and Washington when Obama held his first press conference last week.

“When it comes to looking for economic solutions for the middle class, this should be a top priority,”....

...Josh Goldstein, the group's spokesman.

Goldstein noted that Obama and Joe Biden both co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate. Obama talked of the measure while on the campaign trail, particularly when addressing union leaders and workers.

The measure would make it less difficult for unions to organize workers. It also would impose penalties on employers for unfair labor practices, including triple back pay for workers who are wrongfully fired.

Organizers would gather support by convincing workers to sign union cards in the open, rather than holding secret-ballot elections.

Once a majority agree to join, the employer would be obliged to negotiate a contract. If the sides fail to reach an accord within the 90 days, they could call for mediation, and unresolved contracts would go to binding arbitration.

Glenn Spencer, the chamber executive leading the fight to kill the measure, said he expects the House would approve the measure but hopes to block it in the Senate.

“From the perspective of the White House, President-elect Obama needs to think about how much political capital he wants to put behind this,” Spencer said, adding that if it is approved in the first 100 days, it is “going to look like a special-interest payback.

“This is probably not the first bill you’d want to put your weight behind,” Spencer said.

--Dan Morain

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Photo credit: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

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