Leveling the playing field for labor

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR LABOR…. President Obama nominated a terrific lawmaker, Hinda Solis, to be Labor Secretary, but her nomination has languished in the face of Republican opposition. Obama has expressed his support for the Employee Free Choice Act, but it’s not yet on the legislative radar screen. Some union leaders and activists have started to feel forgotten.

The president took steps to change that today at the White House.

President Barack Obama signed a series of executive orders Friday that he said should “level the playing field” for labor unions in their struggles with management.

Obama also used the occasion at the White House to announce formally a new White House task force on the problems of middle-class Americans. He named Vice President Joe Biden as its chairman.

Union officials say the new orders by Obama will undo Bush administration policies that favored employers over workers.

Specifically, Obama’s new executive orders will “require federal contractors (holding contracts above $100,000) to post a balanced notice of their employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act;” “require federal service contractors providing services to federal buildings to offer a right of first refusal to the nonsupervisory, nonmanagerial employees of the predecessor contractor for positions for which they were qualified;” and “prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenditures intended to support or deter their employees’ exercise of their right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.”

At the signing ceremony today, Obama said, “I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it’s part of the solution. You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.”

Greg Sargent noted yesterday, in advance of the event, that today’s gathering is “being seen as a big deal by organized labor officials, because it will affirm Obama’s commitment to the unions at a critical moment.”

And to drive that point home, Teamsters President James Hoffa told reporters after the ceremony, “It’s a new day for workers. We finally have a White House that is dedicated to working with us to rebuild our middle class. Hope for the American Dream is being restored.”