Someone asked the other day what, if anything, has President Joe Biden done for labor during his first months as president?
With Labor Day 2021 now upon us, it was a good question. So I went looking for an answer.
Some union advocates and pundits insist that Biden is the most pro-labor president since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.
Washington Post columnist Alyssa Fowers wrote earlier this year that "on his first day in office, he signed an executive order that named the creation of union jobs as a top priority of the administration. Union workers are woven into his plans for infrastructure and climate change. He created a task force to investigate how the executive branch can encourage the formation of unions without approval from Congress."
The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, meanwhile, points to the American Rescue Plan that Biden signed into law earlier this year — directing added unemployment funds to out-of-work Americans, protecting their health insurance and funding payroll subsidies for many businesses hit by the pandemic — as a major victory for working people both in Wisconsin and nationally.
But that's just a beginning, the labor organization adds, holding out hope that Congress can deliver the pending infrastructure bills before the end of the year, including the massive bill aimed at human infrastructure, which includes goals long sought by labor: expanded pre-kindergarten education, family leave, child tax credits, health care expansion and climate change initiatives, for starters. And, of course, the passage of the so-called PRO Act that would level the playing field to give unions a decent chance of organizing new work places.
While Biden is supporting the bill — it's already passed the House — the prospects of getting around a sure Senate filibuster are dim at best. But, labor feels, at least it's a start that has brought public attention to the unfair advantages big businesses and management have to defeat organizing campaigns and elections. And at least it now has a champion in the White House rather than a staunch opponent.
But with less than eight months into his term, labor advocates have been most pleased with the new president's appointments. Firing Peter Robb, Donald Trump's general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, and a number of other anti-union appointees in the Department of Labor, is seen as a big first step.
As was replacing Robb, best known for busting the professional air traffic controllers union under Ronald Reagan, with Peter Ohr, who has a record of pro-worker decisions. They have also been buoyed by Biden's selection of Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston and a former leader of the Laborers Union local there, as secretary of labor. Imagine that, a one-time labor leader leading the Department of Labor.
Biden has also received high marks for several executive orders, 10 of them to be exact, that are seen as helping working people.
They've included ordering OSHA to create a COVID workplace safety standard, improving "Buy American" provisions, ordering a $15 minimum wage for federal contractors, permitting federal unions to bargain again, ending federal private prisons, allowing workers to refuse dangerous work and reinstating federal diversity and inclusion training, which had been eliminated by the Trump administration.
It's a start, but with a divided Congress and the continued lockstep approach of Republicans in the Senate to filibuster at the drop of the hat, the path to effective legislation will be tough.
It remains to be seen what next year will bring.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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