KATE BRONFENBRENNER: So as John said, this week the National Mediation Board is due to issue the amended voting standard for union certification elections for airline and railway employees to change it to 50% plus one of votes cast, rather than the current standard of 50% plus one of eligible voters. The current standard of eligible voters stands alone among labor boards and other voting procedures in this country in both the public and private sectors. Unlike other election processes, under the RLA standard, if you don't vote, if you forget to vote, if you weren't aware of the election, you're assumed to have voted, no. The union has to get 50% plus one of all the voters in the [INAUDIBLE] class, including those who are on furlough, often going back as far as three years, rather than 50% of those who cast valid ballots.
The US concept of the majority of votes cast is one that has a unique history and tradition. We don't have a parliamentary procedure. We have a legislative system rather than parliament. We have exclusive representation under our labor laws rather than minority unionism. So 50% plus one of votes cast is one that everyone understands. And we use the 50% plus one both for card check and elections.
It's one where everyone's vote matters. And if just one person doesn't make it to the polls or doesn't sign a card, the outcome could be just 50% or a tie. And if it's a tie, the union loses. So the question is, why is this different? How did the RLA change come about? And why am I the person that's here before you talking about it?
And I'll start actually with the last reason first. Four years ago, I was contacted by Senator Kennedy and Miller and the members of the House and Senate, along with representatives from the labor movement and NGOs who were dealing with labor law reform, and asked to update my research that I've done over the last 20 years, much of it funded by Congress and congressional commissions and also labor, to help inform the debate on labor law reform.
And in those discussions, representatives from the unions under the RLA said, you know, no one has ever studied the RLA in the 75 years since it's been in existence, since 1926. And I said, ever? There's never been any research under organizing under the RLA?
And I thought that was questionable. I thought maybe they didn't know. And I went and looked it up. And it turns out there has never been any academic research on organizing under the RLA. And they said, we have several key issues. One is that employer opposition has increased. Two, there's the big issue about the voting standard and how things have changed and voter suppression.
And since you're doing this research, couldn't you include us? The congressional representatives in the room said, we would be interested in this issue, too. While you're at it, could you include this in your research?
So we said, well, OK, while we're at it. And so we proceeded to go ahead with our research. This was in the fall of 2006. We started the research.
And I released a study on the NLRB data last spring, in the spring of 2009, and then proceeded to do the analysis on the RLA data. Was just finishing running the numbers, and a notice came out that the two new members appointed by the Obama administration to the NMB, Linda Puchala and Harry Hoglander, had introduced a notice of a proposed rule change amending the voting procedure and that there was going to be a hearing, and they were inviting testimony. But you had to submit your testimony in a week. And they would consider if any people submitted testimony.
I thought, well, I have the only research. I better hurry up and get my testimony in. I sent it in, and I got a call from the Mary Johnson, who was doing it, saying, we need you to testify. Show up at the hearing. Are you aware, is there any other academic testimony? Well, there is.
So I showed up at the hearing. And the only scholars at the hearing were myself and then David Brody, historian. He was the one who provided the historical background on why we had this standard.
The room was just packed with people. Thousands and thousands of people had submitted testimony, but they only had one day of hearings. They had people from labor, from management, from management consultants, representatives from the airline industry.
And the main opposition-- there were four central arguments from those who opposed it. One-- they believed it would lead to minority unionism. They argued that if you bring this in, then you're going to have-- only the small number of people who support the union are going to-- you're going to have a small number of people vote. And in these big, huge airlines nationwide, the reason that they had the voting standard the way it was was because airline and railway unions are nationwide, and it would be undemocratic to have it be based on votes cast, because it would lead to minority unionism.
Second-- it could end up leading to too many unions in the industry, which would be bad for the industry and bad for the economy, especially at this time. Third-- this was all about Delta. The only reason this was happening is because the flight attendants wanted it because of Delta Airlines being unorganized, and we shouldn't have a law that was just based on one union wanting a law change.
And finally, that the procedure was flawed, that the two members of the NMB had done an end run behind the chair, Dougherty, and given her only 90 minutes to review the proposal before publication, and the process was flawed, that she was very angry about it. They did all sorts of appeals about this to her, challenging her, trying to get her to join with them in the appeals. And she actually rejected all of their appeals over and over again.
Each one of them-- the National Right to Work Association, the Heritage Foundation, Littler Mendelson, one of the major anti-union law firms-- all tried to literally appeal and to appeal to her. And she roundly rejected their attempts and said, no, the process is fine. We're moving forward with this.
In terms of the historical argument, David Brody addressed that in his testimony. He said, in fact, when the law was first passed in 1926, there was no standard. There was nothing written into the law about how the procedure should vote.
And then the standard came about because the chair at the time, Eastman, was concerned because what was happening in the '20s, like it was happening everywhere, was that the employers were using company unions as the primary way to try to avoid unions. And he came up with the idea of the majority of eligible voters as a way to avoid company unions, because company unions were just based on these small committees. And if you made it be the majority of eligible voters, he saw it as a way as a bar of company unions.
Once that was passed and when it went into the '30s, there were contested elections. There were a lot of unions vying for the railroads and the airlines. Turnout in the '30s averaged 88%.
And so of there wasn't an issue of voter suppression. There was very high turnout. And you knew that you had the full measure of everybody voting. And so there there was employer opposition. But you had the full voice of workers. That was in the 1930s.
But as Brody said, something changed. And there stopped being contested elections. And so the non-vote no longer was a measure of whether people were voting. But the original reason for the vote was not to prevent minority unionism but was to prevent company unions.
On the NLRB side, the reason that they came up with the majority of votes cast was because of contested elections between unions. There had been a case where there was a union that when it withdrew from the election went about campaigning behind the scenes to get the workers that had been voting for it to withdraw their votes and to try to suppress the vote for the other union.
And to prevent that from happening, the NLRB changed its procedure to the majority of votes cast so that you could not have nonvoters interfere with an election. And thus, they added a "no vote" on the ballot and made it be the majority of votes cast. Then Brody countered the arguments for the history.
In elections where the voting standard is 50% plus one of votes cast, the goal of both sides is to get the highest turnout possible. We found in the elections where the standard is majority of eligible voters, management strategy changes to suppress turnout. And that is what I found in my research, is that employer strategy is focused on suppressing voter turnout, either by confusing voters about election procedure, about getting voters to destroy their ballots.
In fact, my data show that in 67% of elections, employers used one or more tactics to get voters to destroy their ballots, either by ripping up the election or by giving them confusing instructions. And it certainly was not about Delta. In fact, 67% of elections means it was affecting unions in all the different carriers, railway and airline carriers.
And how does it play out? There was an example from a machinist campaign-- 2001 election, 110 mechanics. All the workers who voted, of course, chose unionization. But only 54 cast ballots.
We don't know why the 56 voters who didn't vote-- we don't know why they didn't vote. We don't know whether they didn't know about the election, whether they were sick, whether they couldn't get access to the vote. We just know that they didn't vote. But if five votes had gone the other way, five more people have voted, the union could have won.
The upshot of this is, what does it mean? What happens if it changes? What we know is that there are 20,650 Delta flight attendants who are right there, ready to vote. There's FedEx, Republic Airlines, JetBlue, and numerous other airlines who are eager and ready to have elections. And we also don't know about the 66% of elections that were lost, how many of them would turn the other way.
We also know, though, that employer opposition will increase dramatically when they change from using voter suppression to now using other tactics. There will be a lot more activity. There will be a lot more organizing drives.
But whatever happens, the outcome will be more representative of what workers want. It will be a more democratic process. And it'll be more in line with the standard that we use elsewhere. If nothing else, there'll be a lot more news for you all to report on the Railway Labor Act, which normally is completely ignored by the media in terms of the organizing process.
AUDIENCE: I can understand management's and even many workers concerned that only 10% of the workers vote, it could lead to real minority unionism. So might it not be most sensible to have a rule requiring at least 50%-- like, have a quorum-- at least 50% of people vote so that the union gets more than 25% that win. You understand my point.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: So we don't have that rule in any election process that we have. What we do know is that in the NLRB process, we have 88% turnout. Public elections, we have 88% process.
When you turn to majority of votes cast, the employer's interest will be to have turnout. The union works to get its voters out, right? The employer has been trying to keep people from turning out to vote.
Once the employer stops trying to keep people to turn out, then workers will be encouraging people to rip up ballots. I don't think there'll be a turnout problem. But we don't have an election process anywhere where we require a certain percent turnout.
AUDIENCE: What's the average turnout in Railway Labor Act elections? And you said 88% in NLRB elections.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: The turnout's 44%. So we're not at a 10% threshold right now. What I thought would be the best comparison would be look at large statewide units, where you have workers spread across-- the turnout is still above 80%.
So workers vote. Even when there isn't employer opposition, workers vote in union elections. It doesn't seem that turnout is an issue in union elections.
The only time they don't vote is when someone is coercing them to not vote. That's what the data show from all the different-- because that was my first question. So in a climate when there's no employer opposition and workers are spread out across a broad area-- so you take California, where they're dividing a statewide unit-- is there low turnout? No. It's very high.
AUDIENCE: I'm John Ritsbo with BNA. The NMB procedure has been held up as a possible alternative to the card check in the EFCA proposal in just the aspect of using the mail ballot. But then it's also been pointed out that the whatever virtues of mail about, the NMB process is flawed by the fact, as you're pointing out. How do you think what's going on at the NMB fits in in the broader EFCA debate?
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Well, the NMB procedure is effectively changed. Mail ballots work with literate populations and with populations who speak English and have access to mail. But I think we have to be very careful making the mail ballot be the standard.
We have a lot of we have a lot of workers organizing today who are multi-lingual. And I would be very concerned about making mail ballot be the sole method of organizing, I think, particularly in an largely immigrant populations. I would be very, very concerned, because we have workforces that have 32 different languages. Are you going to ensure that you've gotten instructions out in how to vote on the mail ballot and you get the right mail ballot to the right worker? I can see it being fraught with possibility that you are not getting the right ballot to the right worker.
It happens to be that workers covered by the Railway Labor Act happen to be the most homogeneous. I just read the data on race and gender. And if you look at all the different labor laws, they are the most homogeneous population. They have women and gender. But in terms of race and ethnicity, they tend to be white, native born.
AUDIENCE: So since you're not--
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Different. So if the NMB decision is one of the most positive stories for unions this yeah-- it's actually a win-- the Citizens United is a story that has I think been undervalued in terms of the negative impact it could have on workers and unions in the US and actually elsewhere. In striking down the McCain-Feingold ban on for-profit and non-for-profit money for unions and corporations-- broadcasting, electioneering, communications-- in the 30 days before a presidential primary and 60 days before general elections, they're striking down 20 years of court decisions.
And in the words of the case, "They're returning to a principle established in Buckley and Bellotti, that governments may not suppress political speech on the basis of a speaker's corporate identity." And maybe the most important sentence-- "No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of a nonprofit or for-profit corporations." Those are words with deep historical roots and powerful implications that will be used in future cases, to be sure.
What's fascinating about the decision to me is that it's been presented to the public, first, by the court itself and then by the mainstream media, bloggers, academics, legislators, and business, as one that we equally celebrated in union halls and corporate headquarters. An example-- and I picked out NPR not to pick on NPR but because I thought the words were-- it said it would, "unleash a torrent of corporate and union cash into the political realm."
AUDIENCE: Like there's not already.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: What?
AUDIENCE: Like there's not already.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Right. But all the quotes make it sound like this torrent is equal-sided and that the torrent will be equal-sided. And certainly, the public took it to be so. The public reaction-- if you look at the blogs, if you look at the reaction-- it's been 80% negative reaction to the ruling. And the outpouring of negative feeling has been equal towards corporation and union leaders when the public feel, all right, now I'm going to use their money to rob average people of their democratic voice.
There's no question that unions are big players in terms of politics and in terms of money. Six unions were sixth the top 10 most generous what's called heavy hitters in PAC donations. And their contributions were about a third of the $5.2 billion from all sources spent in the 2008 election cycle.
But what will happen in the aftermath of the court's recent decisions in terms of being able to spend unlimited amount of money? When it comes to an unlimited amount of money, unions cannot compare. When you stop going from the 5,000 cap that existed under McCain-Feingold, realistically unions will be small potatoes.
If you look at what's been happening in unions across the country, because of how much money they spent on the last campaign, unions have been engaging in layoffs. Unions cut back on organizing in the last year. They dropped post-election cycle. Last year was the first year that not only did organizing numbers drop, but there also have been layoffs and hiring freezes in almost every union in terms of organizing and strategic campaign for the first time in more than a decade. And the organizing numbers have dropped significantly.
And if you look at the number, in terms of revenues that the corporations have, annual revenues range from $168 billion to more than $351 billion. Exxon Mobil's profits alone were $85 billion. The top selling drug, Pfizer's Lipitor, grossed $27 billion in sales during this same time period. This is not a playing field of labor can win on, but it's one that labor can lose on badly.
Despite this, labor's not speaking out against this in one voice. There have been some unions remaining quiet, trying to see what maybe the advantages are and seeing whether maybe the restrictions they didn't like with McCain-Feingold are worth having employers unfettered. But most realize the serious repercussions of the decision, that go far beyond money.
Corporations have been expanding personhood rights ever since the 1886 Santa Clara County Southern Pacific Railroad decision, which actually did not include in the decision anything about corporate personhood. But in the oral arguments the judge mentioned that we do not wish to hear arguments about corporate personhood, but we all agree that the 14th Amendment gives equal protection of the law. When it says equal protection of the law, it applies to corporations. And because he said that in the oral arguments, subsequent decisions all proceeded to say that that set a precedent.
Over the subsequent years, due process was given under the 14th and 15th amendment to corporations, freedom from unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment, jury trial in a criminal case under the Sixth Amendment, compensation from government takings under the Fifth Amendment, which may be actually the most significant, because that's what gave the WTO and NAFTA the power for corporations. Freedom from double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment, jury trial on a civil case, the Seventh Amendment, commercial and political speech under the First.
It has led to some remarkable decisions-- for example, in Marshall versus Barlow in 1978, the courts ruled that governance safety inspectors cannot enter corporate property without a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment, equating them with colonial shops. That's what the whole purpose of the Fourth Amendment was that people could be secure in their persons, houses, paper, and effects. So a corporation, like a person, should not have unreasonable search and seizure.
Or in our international treaties-- for instance, Massachusetts's 30 other local governments, when they passed laws banning imports from Burma made with slave or child labor, the foreign trade council made up of 500 US corporations successfully challenged those laws under the WTO. That means that the anti-apartheid movement boycotting South Africa would today be illegal under the WTO.
Ironically, the one area where the First Amendment has been fairly has been used consistently to restrain corporate rights in order to protect the integrity of the democratic process has been in campaign financing-- that is, until Citizens United. This decision has now emboldened corporations, because they are already looking for other areas where they can challenge existing laws using their new free speech rights. THE one limitation on corporate rights has been lifted.
Separate apart from trying to get an amendment to bring this restraint, what should labor's response be? Some have said, this is the final nail in the coffin of the EFCA and health care reform. But my response is that it has never simply been about the money.
Labor failed so far in terms of EFCA and health care reform, because, it did think about it as pouring money into Washington and forgetting about what its strengths are. It faltered on two campaigns with a Democratic president. It elected a congressional majority with McCain-Feingold in place, because it forgot what its political strength was, that it used such success in the 2002-2008 cycle. It won in Pennsylvania and in Michigan, not because it had thousands of dollars of cash but because it had a sophisticated, well-organized cross-union strategy of using people on the ground.
It used the money it had for gas mileage, for training people in going door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor and using the Rapid Response Network that it had developed in those states. It used money but not in large cash donations. Building networks, meeting with churches, organizing events, doing phone calls.
And this is where they went wrong with EFCA and health care reform. Instead of spending all their research and focusing on the blue dog Democrats, they should have worked in the on-the-ground networks to use it in the communities to organize workers for them to put pressure on the candidates in those states. They can still do that. That's where they have they have power that corporations don't have.
But now the stakes are even higher. If they don't use that power now before they have a more hostile Congress in the fall, given Republicans having more money, it'll be even harder. They need to use the strengths they do have. And taking their money and their resources and trying to outspend employers-- they can't win. They can never outspend them.
The lesson for labor in all this is they should not make the mistake because the dollar ceiling is lifted. They should try to spend their money on candidates. They should spend their money on the resources that they have best, which is their ability to organize in the community, in the workplace, to have workers worker-to-worker focus on the issues and get candidates to move on the issues, not putting money so inside the beltway in Washington.
SPEAKER 1: Lauren?
SPEAKER 1: Hi, I'm John. Questions then, Kate, either on anything at this point. Kate's expertise is on labor research and knows a lot of [INAUDIBLE]. We also talked a little bit about the National Mediation Board and--
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: And also, I have my testimony here.
SPEAKER 1: But feel free to jump in and bring anything you have up again.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Obama's not standing up and not doing a recess appointment, so Craig Becker has made unions very angry. They are talking about withholding money from candidates until such time that Becker is given an appointment. High level leaders are starting to talk about that more than I've heard in the past.
Hilda Solis gave this kind of, hint, hint, in the AFL-CIO gathering in Florida that they will be pleased, that something's going to happen, during which labor took to mean that something's going to happen with the Becker appointment, maybe during the Easter recess. But that's fairly vague. Both the AFL-CIO and SEIU and individual unions that used to be part of Change to Win, which doesn't really exist as a federation anymore, are saying that they are going to pursue labor law reform. They're going to still fight for EFCA of some form. And they're not going to stop that fight.
What form it will be in, when it will happen, I don't know. I think that the failure to get Becker in in the Labor Board actually serve to put a little fire under their belly, interestingly enough, because that was their backup, that it they didn't get EFCA, at least they were going to get a Labor Board that was going to be more friendly towards them. So I think they're going to keep pushing for some change.
They've had a reality check, that they have a president that does not see them as a priority, and they're right. I mean, he clearly did not make Craig Becker a priority from day one. He could have put Becker's through from the very beginning. I think he saw that, for him, Becker was controversial, and he decided not to push through. But he's now getting enough heat from labor that he's feeling like he may have to do something.
AUDIENCE: Can you talk more about Obama's relationship with labor and the failure of the administration to act on labor's priorities? Is Would you say it's the fault of the administration, so to speak, or the fault of labor, or a combination of factors?
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: I think the labor movement made the same mistake they make over and over again, is they work really hard for Democratic candidates and they assume the Democratic candidates will just appreciate them and do right by them. And they don't hold them accountable. Obama never ran as a labor candidate.
If you listen to his speeches during the campaign, he talked about health care reform. And he said things about the Employee Free Choice Act, but he never said them with a strong conviction. There was a very different voice that he used about the Employee Free Choice Act and labor's issues.
I thought it was a very significant that when he chose his economic advisers, he put free trade people, all free trade people, at the main table for his economic advisers. And Hilda Solis, who was very much a labor appointment, is not at that table. And labor was very happy with her as a choice. But if you look at who are making the economic decisions, she's not making decisions about the economy. And the people are making decisions about the economy are all free trade people. And that's very significant that she's not at that table.
And it's almost as if labor didn't notice it or didn't say anything. They were just so glad to get Hilda Solis. And that that should have been a big warning light to them right off the bat.
And if you look at the two appointments, the Sotomayor and Craig Becker both had statements they made that were controversial that there was a reaction to after they were appointed. Craig Becker's were made as a scholar. He wrote an article in a journal, a journal I'm on the editorial board of. So I knew when he was appointed I knew that that article with going to be controversial. And I thought it'll be interesting what happens when Obama-- how is Obama going to react to that article.
And what was the article?
It was an article in which he said that theoretically he believes in employer free speech right. Employers should not have free speech rights in the process. Workers should be able to organize free from employer campaigning.
And it was an opinion piece, as a scholar, and the kind of opinion pieces that many appointees get in trouble with when they go up for jobships and whatever. But usually then they're told, well, that was an opinion. Will you rule independent? And people say, I will follow the law. That was an opinion piece. I did that as an academic.
Sotomayor's comment that she made that was about Hispanic appointees-- very controversial. And then she said, that is not going to affect how I act. Obama stood by her, right?
Obama did not stand by Becker. He was silent. The press came out. The media came out about his comment. Obama didn't say a word. You didn't hear anything from Obama. I thought that was very significant. You never heard a word.
And the reaction normally is when something like that comes up, if the candidate's is going to stand behind you, they say, well that was something he did as a scholar, and he's I chose him because he's a good lawyer, and he's going to be a good and fair representative. And there's a difference in what you do as scholar and what you do as a member of the board. Nothing. Silence. Very different than how he reacted for Sotomayor. And I thought that should have been very revealing, but it wasn't there.
Isn't the position of Supreme Court justice far more prominent and more important than the NLRB? And there are a lot of embattled nominees he did not say a word about or lift a finger about.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: It is. But he still has not said that. The fact that it went all the way to the end, and he didn't say that.
AUDIENCE: It hasn't reached the end.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: But his silence-- my sense is he still-- I think he was probably concerned about it. You may be right. But I have a sense that he may have been thinking, I don't want that fight.
But the typical view is that what one writes as a scholar is usually OK. But labor is deeply disappointed in Obama. There's no question. They are deeply disappointed in Obama.
And even more disappointed in Congress. They gave money to Nelson and others who are hurting them. And they spent an enormous effort on trying to get these six senators to change on EFCA. Oh, in Maine-- Blanche Lincoln-- they spent a great deal of effort, all six of them.
AUDIENCE: Can I actually ask about that, Kate, because you said earlier that one of the things that's percolating in the labor movement right now is this idea of actually withholding political donations for candidates that don't support EFCA--
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: And health care reform and labor.
AUDIENCE: Right. And I remember at the AFL convention, in the run up to that, there was some talk of even passing amendments to the AFL-CIO Constitution that would bar the Federation from supporting political candidates that work against labor's agenda. And Tom Buffenbarger from the Machinists is one person who's gone for political strike against these types of candidates. So there's a lot of talk, on one hand.
And yet you've brought up Blanche Lincoln. I mean, they've got $4 million in the game for her primary challenger who won't even say the word EFCA. Or if he does, it's only to say, oh, it's a dead letter in the Senate right now, so I don't have to really take a stand on that. In the midterm election, do you really believe that the labor movement would actually withhold money?
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: I don't think it'll be the AFL-CIO. I think it might be SEIU. It'll be one or two unions, but who have a lot of money, that might do it. And those unions are unions who have significant money, who are going to say-- and that it'll be in certain races that matter, that they're just going to say, we're going to put our money into organizing around issues, and we're not going to give money to candidates unless they support our issues. The AFL-CIO is much too divided at this point. I don't think you could get all the members of the AFL-CIO to agree on that.
AUDIENCE: In terms of unions supporting Obama and not holding politicians generally accountable, isn't it true that because the Republicans are so anti-union, that there is is a political trap that the unions are in? And I guess you're suggesting that they overcome that trap by grassroots organizing. But really, you can't threaten to vote for a Republican because they don't want to acknowledge your existence.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Right. I mean, that's exactly right. It's not like they're going to say, I'm going to go support the Republican candidate. What they do is stay out of the race, which then it inevitably gets the Republican candidate.
But they're saying, we'll use our money instead on organizing, and we'll use our money. We're not going to just keep this going again and again. What happened in the last year is that their numbers dropped, so their voting power dropped, because density went down. So they feel like they ended up with a net loss since they weren't organizing, and they didn't win what they wanted to achieve.
AUDIENCE: So theoretically, they should organize instead of--
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Well, doing political organizing but doing political organizing, getting the candidates elected they need to get elected and organizing in the districts around the issues, rather than trying to spend their energy-- don't spend their energies trying to change Blanche Lincoln's mind.
AUDIENCE: Within the AFL-CIO or also in their external image of, what changes have you seen in the transition from John Sweeney to Rich Trumka? Trumka has arguably been more outspoken and more active in election issues. So has the transition of leadership made any difference in their positions on these issues?
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: I don't think there's been time to see a difference in the issues. Trumka took over in a time of financial crisis. At the same time he takes over, the AFL-CIO was also having cutbacks in staff. We don't yet see a difference coming out in terms of a major difference in vision or policy coming out. But we're likely to see it, maybe if there is a major, major strike or a major organizing effort. But there isn't anything that's resonated out there.
AUDIENCE: Because they're preoccupied with internal issues.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: The thing that everybody hears and that you've been writing about it have been divisions in the labor movement. The labor movement has hurt itself terribly by its internal fighting, which . Has been damaging for the movement. And the UNITE HERE Convention consisted of people all screaming and attacking other unions, that that has continued on, SEIU's fight out in California. The fight between UNITE HERE and Workers United dominating the news has not been good for the labor movement. So without question, that's not good press for the labor movement this year.
And just to clarify something, when I say being out there organizing, what I mean is they should be organizing and educating workers about the Employee Free Choice Act, educating voters about health care reform, and getting those voters to convince the politicians in their districts on those issues. That's what I mean, that they should have been they should have been out in the districts doing that. And certainly, both Change to Win and the AFL-CIO and their affiliates were doing that, but in terms of their resources, they had a greater number of resources focused on the blue dogs than they had in the field campaign.
And if you think about-- at the end of the Obama campaign, there were all those independent voters, young voters, black voters that had voted for Obama, that the labor movement was in touch with, had helped work on and helped talk to and helped get to the polls-- if they had continued to talk to those voters about the Employee Free Choice Act and about health care reform, that was a moment. That was a missed moment. If they had focused on those issues, we know from when the unions won on Fast Track, when they won in California on paycheck protection, when they won on minimum wage, they do best when they organize around politically, when they organize on issues in that way. That's when they are able to win with voters who are not union members is when they do neighbor-to-neighbor, voter-to-voter and campaign that way.
And they had a moment where they actually had a team on the ground with contacts. And they should have kept going on the Employee Free Choice Act. But they decided to go to the top inside the circle.
AUDIENCE: I guess I'm just focused on this Obama question. What do you think the unions should do differently in terms of the next presidential campaign? How should they [INAUDIBLE]?
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Well, they were very divided. They ended up-- which they always do. One of the things that's still going on-- there are a lot of tensions within the labor movement that occurred because of how they divided up, under which candidate they should support. And a lot of the tension between Hillary Clinton and Obama occurred because, also with the divisions within the labor movement between supporting Hillary Clinton and Obama.
And that is always a tough call. But because labor has so much power, so much voter support, figuring out mechanisms to work out the tensions within the labor movement over candidacies. Now, part of that was recreated by Edwards himself, his unwillingness to release his voters because of his own personal pride of wanting to wanting to keep his delegates to the very end. And if we'd known what we know now, it was even more outrageous.
But if he had pulled out of the race sooner-- the labor movement was so divided, with the industrial unions all supporting Edwards and then this division between Hillary and Obama. The divisions in the labor movement, because of the split between Change to Win and the AFL-CIO and their inability to kind of communicate together during the election because of those divisions, were its weakest moment. It's best moment was when they actually came together and had this umbrella organization, the Alliance, where members of Change to Win and the AFL-CIO actually campaigned together for Obama despite the division and were able to work together.
And it's the reason he, I think, was able to get elected is because they put aside that difference. Labor played a very significant role in his election. There were people designing his campaign who had historically come out of union organizing, have been trained in the United Farm Workers campaigns and and in organizing strategies.
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Connections that he made in the South-- a lot of them were with ties to people who had built connections in organizing drives in the south and And their willingness to put aside the differences. But those differences shouldn't have been there in the first place. So these divisions between the different federations and between unions within the federations have been very damaging.
AUDIENCE: Do you foresee a scenario where Obama would try to do more for the union movement?
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Labor's going to have to use its power to make it happen. He's not going to do it if he doesn't have to. I think he has to be reminded that he actually needs labor, which he does, but he seems to have forgotten. He would have done better on health care if he'd worked with the labor movement.
Obama does best when he actually gets out there in the community. And his health care bill is not going over very well. He made a big mistake in trying to be too bipartisan. And he realized that and he pulled back. And perhaps if he'd listened to some people in the labor movement, he might have learned that that was a mistake.
The public didn't want him to be so generous with the corporations and the whole bailout plan. I think it would behoove him to listen to more of the labor advisers. But he has this need to try to be constantly balancing interests, which so far hasn't done him well, because he keeps losing public support.
AUDIENCE: It's the Clinton consensus [INAUDIBLE].
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: But somehow Clinton would do it and still keep public support. But he doesn't keep public support.
AUDIENCE: Well, the economy's doing so [INAUDIBLE].
KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Right. And he has a war going on, which is not going to be popular.
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Kate Bronfenbrenner, ILR School senior lecturer on labor relations, spoke with journalists March 9 in New York City about the pending federal rule change related to the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and how the recent U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which abolished campaign-spending limits, changes the playing field for labor.
Bronfenbrenner studies union and employer strategies in organizing and bargaining in the global economy, and has done extensive research on the impact of trade policy on employment, wages and unionization.