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Obama’s Labor Problem

The unions are unhappy campers.

Aug 27, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 46 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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“You know who Bryce Harper is? I’m tempted to say, ‘That’s a clown question, bro,’ but I won’t. In every election there’s a union difference. .  .  .  I can go down gun owners, veterans, the elderly—anything you want to call, there was a major union difference” in determining the outcome.

No one doubts that union support for Democrats makes a difference in elections. The question is, in 2012 will the union difference be enough? The 2008 election was the biggest all-out political effort by unions in decades. Organized labor spent $400 million, and the result, while convincing, was not a landslide. Union support for Obama wouldn’t have to go down much for Romney to win.

How’s this for an indicator? The week prior to Trumka’s trumpeting the “union difference,” the United Mine Workers of America—which Trumka himself used to head—announced it was declining to endorse Obama thanks to the administration’s job-killing EPA regulations. The same union had enthusiastically endorsed him in 2008.

For their part, there are signs that Democrats are worried about the level of union support in this election. The day before the Workers Stand for America rally, the DNC quietly announced in a Friday afternoon news dump that it was moving all its money and banking business to Amalgamated Bank, a labor-owned institution with a troubled history.

Last year, the bank was subject to an FDIC enforcement action, owing to varieties of accounting chicanery designed to make the bank’s balance sheet appear stronger than it was. The bank’s low liquidity levels were resolved in part when two private equity companies, W.L. Ross & Company and The Yucaipa Companies, each took a 20 percent stake in Amalgamated. (The Yucaipa Companies is chaired by billionaire Ron Burkle, whose close friendship with Bill Clinton has consumed much tabloid ink over the years.)

Still, there are many indications that such sops to unions may be too little, too late, and that the Obama campaign won’t be able to amp up union enthusiasm to the levels it needs. “If you doubt that Republicans and labor can find common ground, consider the record of a governor named Romney—not Mitt, but his father, George,” the IBEW’s Ed Hill wrote in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed published the same day as the rally. “As governor of Michigan during the 1960s, he signed that state’s Public Employee Relations Act, guaranteeing government workers the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

It seems unlikely that Mitt Romney will adopt his father’s positions on organized labor, but labor leaders appear braced for the possibility that, come January, they’ll have to work with him whether they like it or not.

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