Democrats Beat Back Anti-Labor Riders
By Justin Miller | Dec 17, 2015
There’s nothing business-friendly Republicans won’t try in their effort to dismantle organized labor. The recent budget showdown was no exception. However, rather surprisingly, organized labor avoided a shellacking.
“We’re relieved,” says Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s director of government affairs. “There was a whole laundry list of rollbacks on worker rights and to the [Department of Labor], and I have to say, we were expecting we wouldn’t be able to stop all of them. All in all, we dodged a bullet.”
Apart from an expansion of the H2-B worker visa program, which will increase the number of foreign workers employed in the U.S., congressional Democrats were able to use their negotiating leverage to beat back nearly all the provisions aimed at workers and organized labor.
Here’s what went well for labor in the massive new budget deal:
After the National Labor Relations Board passed its landmark joint-employer standard a few months ago, which designated parent companies (like McDonald’s) just as responsible for employee-related issues as their franchisees, Republicans went on a crusade to overturn the ruling. A number of GOP members tried to pass a budget rider to defund the NLRB’s ability to enforce the ruling. (Any provisions attached to the budget require just a simple majority in the Senate rather than the 60-vote threshold that all other legislation must surmount.)
Despite intense lobbying on Capitol Hill from groups like the International Franchise Association, Democrats were able to detach the rider from the final budget deal. With little chance of a freestanding legislative repeal getting through the Senate or sustaining a (near-guaranteed) presidential veto, there now are few options to thwart the new standard.
Democrats also killed a rider that would have defunded the Department of Labor’s enforcement power of the fiduciary rule, a labor-backed consumer protection that protects retirement investments.
Additionally, Republicans failed in their attempts to roll back support for the Department of Labor as a whole—as Politico notes, the department’s funding levels actually increased by a small amount and funding for its enforcement agencies remains the same as in 2015.
Meanwhile, as the labor movement continues to fight the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, also spared from budget slashes were government agencies at both the Commerce and Labor Departments that would be responsible for international trade enforcement and compliance.
“The [Department of Commerce’s] Office of Enforcement and Compliance has investigated a historic number of trade cases in recent years, and it’s time they had the resources to continue this important function,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown said in a statement. “This bill gives the OEC a funding boost that will ensure that U.S. industries and manufacturers aren’t left waiting for trade enforcement relief.”
Republicans were able, however, to quadruple the controversial H2-B guest-worker visa program, which labor officials say exploits migrants workers and takes jobs from Americans. Buzzfeed recently ran a huge investigation detailing the exploitive nature of the program and impacts it has on workers.
Labor may have dodged most of the bullets in the budget deal, but don’t expect labor’s agenda to see much future success—like raising the minimum wage or mandating paid sick days and family leave—so long as there’s a Republican-controlled Congress. “It’s going to be pretty difficult to build on this,” Samuels says.