LABOR ON THE HILL
A NewsHour debate about the AFL-CIO's massive advertising effort. Background information on labor politics and history.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of economic issues.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of business issues.
A brief history of American Labor.
The AFL-CIO's home page.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With a business-minded, limited government Republican Party controlling both houses of Congress for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, big business lobbyists expected to reap many rewards. But the battle, waged on several legislative fronts, went hardly as expected. The centerpieces of the business agenda:
- Repeal of the 59 year-old Davis-Bacon Act, which requires employers to pay "prevailing wages" on federal construction projects. Businesses contend that the act leads to higher construction costs that could be otherwise negotiated.
- Repeal of the labor protection provision of the Urban Mass Transit Act. "13C" requires that when a public transit system is "privatized," the new owners must accept the existing unions, their contracts and responsibility for their benefits.
- Passage of the Team Act, which would allow employers to set up work teams without fear of violating the National Labor Relations Act. Labor sees the work teams as an attempt by business to obviate unions in most workplaces and blunt Labor's organizing efforts.
Attacks like these, on issues held dear by unions, served mainly to mobilize labor opposition on Capitol Hill, and the proposals have not met with success. The Team Act came closest, passing the House last year, but recently was defeated again in the Senate.
A bill that the AFL-CIO has had less influence on is the fiscal 1997 appropriations bill that funds, among others, the Department of Labor. A version passed the House by 216-209 on July 12; it includes cutbacks for both the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, Democrats succeeded in removing a provision that would have prohibited OSHA from developing standards to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries. Senate action is pending a dispute over the total allocation for the bill.
The AFL-CIO's most notable victory has come in the passage of the 90-cent increase in the minimum hourly wage. The headliner of its "America Needs a Raise" mantra, the bill, with the current minimum of $4.25 nearing a 40-year low in inflation-adjusted dollars, was a political winner for the Democrats from the start. Polls indicated public support approached 80 percent, yet Republicans balked, contending that the increase would destroy hundreds of thousands of low wage jobs, and refused to bring the measure to either the House or Senate floors. Democrats, however, with the public behind them and the AFL-CIO ads hammering away at vulnerable Republicans, pressed on, trying to attach the increase to nearly every bill on the floor. Resistance finally crumbled when about two dozen House Republicans switched over to the Democratic position. The bill finally passed, with Republicans saving some ideological face by attaching a package of tax cuts for small business. A bicameral effort to exempt those businesses failed, however, and when President Clinton signed the bill into law on August 20, the Democrats had won their greatest victory of the 104th Congress.