Their status is a change for labor officials, who say the Republican administration of George W. Bush was hostile to their agenda. “Welcome back to the White House!” Vice President Joe Biden said to union leaders who met with the president at the White House 10 days after his inauguration.
Richard Trumka, 60, Sweeney’s successor, says he meets monthly with Obama, and that union representatives have “daily contacts throughout the administration.” Obama officials visit with labor leaders “frequently,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Unions were among Obama’s biggest supporters in the 2008 election, with 68 percent of AFL-CIO members voting for him in so-called battleground states, according to an election night poll by Peter Hart Research Associates. Labor unions and their political action committees spent a record $450 million during the campaign to help Democrats win the White House and gain control of Congress.
Obama sided with the United Steelworkers last month against tire makers such as Cooper Tire and imposed 35 percent tariffs on tires imported from China. Bush rejected putting tariffs on Chinese products all four times the issue came before him.
“It’s certainly been more difficult,” said Michelle Zeisloft, a spokeswoman for Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper. She declined to elaborate. Because of the tariffs, Cooper went from breaking even on imported tires to losing $14.50 on each one, according to a Sept. 21 report by JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The AFL-CIO and the Teamsters also led union opposition to a pending free-trade agreement with Panama. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office dropped plans for a vote on the measure in May, saying Obama wanted first to offer a new “framework” for how trade fits into other administration programs.
More bills supported by labor, stalled in past years because of White House opposition, have Obama’s support and may get the votes to pass once they get on the legislative calendar.
“The failure to get some of the nominees in quickly has kept some of the agencies from moving, but once they’re in, the business community’s only recourse is litigation,” said Randy Johnson, who handles labor policy at the chamber, the nation’s largest business lobbying group.