Big labor's mounting feud with Barack Obama

Union leaders say the president has not rewarded them for delivering votes in 2012, and they're angry.

By The Fiscal Times Feb 19, 2014 1:38PM
Man holding hardhat © Tetra Images, Tetra images, Getty ImagesBy Eric Pianin, The Fiscal Times

When President Obama was reelected in November 2012, labor leaders eagerly counted on payback for helping to deliver the critical states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada. 

"We did deliver those states," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka boasted back then. "Without organized labor, none of those states would have been in the president's column."

Nearly 16 months later -- with yet another crucial election on the horizon -- Trumka and other organized labor leaders grouse that they have little to show for their fealty to Obama:

Keystone XL. The AFL-CIO, Teamsters and construction trades unions are pressing for administration approval of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the Gulf Coast to create thousands of jobs for their members. But so far, Obama has shared the concerns of environmental groups that the pipeline won't produce many permanent jobs and could pose an environmental threat.

Obamacare. Major labor groups say the Affordable Care Act is undercutting union-sponsored health insurance programs and will encourage employers in the long term to cut workers' hours to avoid having to provide them with health insurance.

They complain that Obamacare may end up "destroying" the union's multi-employer health plans. Under the administration’s current interpretation of Obamacare, union members with so-called "Taft-Hartley" non-profit plans would not be entitled to tax subsidies available to others; they might also get hit with federal taxes to help offset the cost of those subsidies.

Trade deals. Organized labor is also strongly opposed to two proposed free-trade agreements that the administration is trying to push through Congress on a fast-track basis. Displeased with the impact of NAFTA and other major trade agreements, labor leaders fear that the new ones could hurt local jobs and industries.

If labor and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill prevail, that would undercut a major element of Obama's economic agenda. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently broke publicly with the White House by declaring, "I'm against fast track."

Trumka said that the AFL-CIO "opposes [the trade] legislation in the strongest terms and will actively work to block its passage." He added, "It is past time for the United States to get off the corporate hamster wheel on trade."

Trumka has also repeatedly skewered the White House for refusing to address labor's concerns about the adverse effects of Obamacare on rank-and-file union members. And James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union, told MSNBC earlier this month, "We're entirely behind the Keystone project."

"It's basically part of our infrastructure," Hoffa said. "It's going to put thousands of people to work -- not only Teamsters but all of working people. This is something America needs right now."


Strong turnout needed

This is hardly the first time a Democratic president has feuded with organized labor, although it comes at an inopportune time. With Republicans threatening to win back control of the Senate and enhance their majority in the House next November, Democrats will need another strong turnout by labor.

"On those issues, the divisions are real and they're not trivial," said William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. While it's unlikely many union members would vote for Republican candidates in the fall, he said, Democrats could be badly hurt if union leaders choose to sit out the race.

"The issue is one of enthusiasm and foot power in the run-up to the election," he said.

The tensions between the White House and organized labor also come as the president heads to Mexico Wednesday for talks with fellow heads of state at the North American Leadership Summit. Trade and the Keystone pipeline are certain to be on the agenda and labor leaders will be listening carefully to what Obama has to say.

There is an element of irony to the feuding between Obama and labor leaders over essentially bread-and-butter issues when both sides have made economic equity and fairness for the middle class the centerpiece of their agendas.

"At the core there is a huge overlap between organized labor and the president's agenda," noted David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Moreover, as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted on Tuesday, internal Democratic Party battles over trade issues have gone on for years and no doubt will continue.

"We shouldn't pretend that the wheel has been recreated here when we talk about the differing views that people have on matters of trade expansion," Carney told reporters. 

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says the rift between Obama and labor "isn't particularly wide or intense, at least not yet."

"Labor may feel like it's getting half a loaf, but in their view Republicans would let them starve -- and they're probably right, since nearly all of labor's money and muscle goes to backing Democrats," he said. "So labor still has plenty of incentive to support Democrats in the fall."

A more intriguing question, says Sabato, is whether a serious rift develops between Obama and the environmental movement if the president, in the end, sides with labor, business and the Republicans in allowing construction of the Keystone pipeline to go forward. 

"Approval of Keystone would send environmentalists into the ozone-depleted stratosphere," Sabato said. "Increasingly, Democrats at the state and local level depend on the environmental community for money and volunteers."

More from The Fiscal Times



Feb 19, 2014 2:20PM
so, y'all stole the election for him and he turns his back on you.  how's all the hope and change working out for ya now. 
Feb 19, 2014 2:23PM
What a shame elections can be purchased by big money. Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves...
Feb 19, 2014 2:22PM
OBAMA SCREWED THE UNIONS JUST LIKE HE DID EVERY OTHER WORKING AMERICAN - GET OVER IT!!  Obama bribed the Unions for their support and just refused to pay off the bribe.  SCREW THE UNIONS AND THEIR UNION BOSSES AND HENCHMEN FOR HIRE!!  You got Obama elected and now you FINALLY realize you helped elect the 1st (and last) Dictator in America.  Obama is now and always has been a total failure.  Now the Unions should work to remove Obama from Office -- SUPPORT THE IMPEACHMENT OF OBAMA!!  
Feb 19, 2014 2:30PM
wait until all of the union health plans are hit with the "Cadillac tax" under obamacare.  maybe its time for union workers to utilize critical thinking instead of letting their union delegates tell them what to think.
Feb 19, 2014 2:23PM
I hope they expose Obama for the crook he is.  He seems to have a vendetta against honest working people and wants to eliminate full time jobs. 
Feb 19, 2014 2:36PM
It never ceases to amaze me that people still believe him. He has been lying since day 1. When the Kool-Aid runs out, maybe we can run him out.
Feb 19, 2014 2:20PM
Union leadership is stupid!  OR should I say they lack Leadership!  Obama has screwed them over repeatedly, as he has everyone basically, yet they will continue to support him and his cronies!
Feb 19, 2014 2:50PM
surprise, surprise, surprise,   got just exactly what you bought and paid for......
Feb 19, 2014 2:52PM
BTW are Peleozi and Reid working out any better for you????
Feb 19, 2014 2:44PM
They are deserving of each other.  Union leadership and this administration are all about power, greed, and the Balkanization of America. 
Feb 19, 2014 2:35PM
Should be called the UNION TAX ,  Who would join something that takes your money?  The Government does a very fine job of that on their own.  Funny thing is they both use the same rational, thrust us we will make things better for you!!!!!!
Feb 19, 2014 3:02PM
not all of us union members voted for that piece of trash that pretends to be a leader, nor do we vote for the people that they say we should just because we are union members. the union misrepresentation as some of us like to call them are very one sided and care only about one issue, just like the politicians in Washington, and that is who they think will line their pockets the best. truth be told the dems sold the union down the river in order to pander to the next group that they think will help them stay in control.
Feb 19, 2014 2:40PM

It's a silly comment but---


Obama is the new "Slick Willie".


Read Obama's America, Obamanation and The Audacity of Deceit and you get the whole picture of Obama's self serving lies.

Feb 19, 2014 2:56PM

The union thugs still don't get it, do you?

Obama owns your worthless fannies, he is the only place you can get handouts

Feb 19, 2014 3:01PM

If you like your union card, you can keep your union card.  Period.

It just won't be worth anything at can see obama's lies?


Feb 19, 2014 3:10PM
A narcissist cares for no one but themselves; Obama is a classic narcissist and he knows that many of the Union members are simply lead by the hand of their leadership (who also doesn't really give a crap about them).
Feb 19, 2014 3:05PM

UNION are corrupt and bad for America.. Most union member are lazy... I have seen it first hand.

So what is new, Obama is an unscrupulous, back stabbing, liar, who chose to sleep and produce offspring with something that looks like a combo of Aunt Ester on Sanford and son and a silver back gorilla, ...............  same ole, same ole!

Feb 19, 2014 2:39PM
Were is BRENT the retard and his 30 worthless post on this subject.
Feb 19, 2014 3:27PM

 " the pipeline won't produce many permanent jobs. "

well Obamas job is not permanent either.

Thank God

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.



Quotes delayed at least 15 min


There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.
There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.
Market index data delayed by 15 minutes

[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market is doing pretty much what it was expected to do today in front of the FOMC decision (i.e. nothing).  The major indices are little changed as traders wait anxiously for the Fed's latest directive and updated economic projections.

Everyone is waiting to see if the "considerable time" language is maintained in the directive after Wall Street Journal Fed watcher, Jon Hilsenrath, suggested yesterday it could be.

Mr. Hilsenrath's article ... More


There’s a problem getting this information right now. Please try again later.