Biden experiences ups and downs on labor issues in his freshman year

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President BidenJoe BidenMacro Grid set to shine light on Pelosi, suggests filibuster supporters are ‘dishonoring’ MLK legacy on voting rights. Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE, who ran on promises to be the most pro-worker president in history, struggled to push through pro-worker legislation in his first year in office and recently clashed with major unions over his administration’s COVID-19 policies.

The government’s decision to weaken COVID isolation guidelines and lift the temporary emergency standard protecting healthcare workers brings Biden into a rare disagreement with unions.

Still, union leaders point to the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as two of Biden’s many pro-labor victories, blaming the slim Democratic majority in the Senate for failing to implement other legislative priorities like the PRO Act and Build Back Better Plan .

Unions pushed hard on the infrastructure package, which Biden says will create about 2 million jobs a year for a decade and ensure workers on construction projects receive fair wages.

“President Biden has succeeded when other administrations have repeatedly failed to pass a bipartisan infrastructure package to fix the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, waterways and airports,” said Ray Curry, president of the United Auto Workers, adding that the bill heavily includes labor standards.

The unions also highlight the ARP, which is a top priority for public sector unions in particular, who have faced government budget cuts that would cost government workers their jobs if the law did not provide federal aid.

The labor movement has felt stinged by previous presidents who ran on a pro-labor agenda but ultimately sided with the corporate giants in crucial battles.

“He made promises that he actually kept,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler told The Hill of Biden. “It wasn’t exactly a surprise because we always knew Joe Biden had unions at heart and looked through a worker’s lens, but it was certainly a refreshing change from the previous administration and even previous Democratic administrations.”

However, Biden has been criticized by unions representing frontline workers in the pandemic for cutting safety measures.

The National Nurses United (NNU) called the latest moves to reduce COVID isolation time and lift the temporary emergency standard that mandated the protection of healthcare workers “a double whammy”. It partnered with the AFL-CIO last week to petition the Biden administration to issue a permanent standard.

The union said it was a mistake that the standard was not made permanent, arguing that the new isolation guideline “will only expose bedside nurses to more unsafe conditions”.

In response, the White House highlighted the government’s focus on mask-wearing and the recently confirmed vaccination mandate for healthcare providers in government-funded facilities as measures to protect healthcare workers.

Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, has criticized the government’s isolation guidelines as well as its testing programme.

“I could criticize the lack of COVID testing and the seeming decision to put the economy ahead of public health because the administration feels it cannot undo the damage done by the previous White House, the courts packed to stopping all efforts to protect our health and the patchwork of policies in every state, county and city across the country,” she said.

Nelson said measures such as mask mandates on transport networks, ending violence on planes and funding for aviation workers’ jobs were achievements by the administration.

In another public disagreement, earlier this month Biden called on the Chicago Mayor and Chicago teachers’ unions to settle a debate to keep schools open while teachers argued there weren’t enough COVID-19 safety precautions in place.

Still, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a national teachers’ union, has campaigned to keep schools open and is positive on Biden’s union record to date.

“Joe Biden is the most pro-union president since FDR — maybe ever,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “His goals are clear: to rebuild the middle class, improve the economy, and offer fairness to the marginalized and disadvantaged – all while dealing with a once-in-a-century pandemic.”

Union leaders are pointing to Biden’s decision to sack Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official Peter Robb on his first day in office – a move that outraged corporate trade groups – as an early signal that Biden would be far more pro-labor than its democratic predecessors.

“It was the kind of decisive action that sent a loud and clear message that he would not allow the government to be used to further manipulate the rules on business in this country,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Biden replaced Robb, a longtime union opponent, with former Communications Workers of America attorney Jennifer Abruzzo. Biden successfully urged Senate Democrats to confirm NLRB members Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty, both former SEIU attorneys, against stiff opposition from business groups.

Union leaders are turning to the NLRB and the Department of Labor, which is staffed by ex-union officials and run by card-holder union members Martin WalshMarty WalshBiden Urges Employers to Require Vaccination Despite Supreme Court Ruling Renewed support for unions refutes anti-labor laws in most states Kellogg’s workers vote to end months-long strike MORE, as key forces in promoting pro-worker priorities without the help of Congress. The Biden administration is preparing to enact worker-friendly rules regarding overtime pay and benefits for gig workers, while trying to make it easier for employees to organize.

“We finally have an administration that is talking to us and is really trying to push policies that help working people and the economy,” said Roxanne Brown, international vice president of the United Steelworkers, who has been urging Biden to create a new office for governance to open federal dollars to US companies.

Walsh, the vice chair of the Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which Biden created by order of the executive branch, told The Hill that the government is committed to pro-union policies.

“I’ve seen firsthand the Biden administration’s commitment to unions and protecting the power of collective bargaining,” the secretary said. “The President plans to create millions of well-paying union jobs through the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and remains committed to other pro-worker legislative priorities.”

However, the unions’ top legislative priority was not met in their first year in office. The Senate-passed PRO bill, which passed unmoved in the Senate, would increase penalties for employers who violate workers’ rights and strengthen workers’ protections from retaliation.

Biden included it in his original Build Back Better agenda, which doesn’t have the votes in the Senate to pass it. Likewise, Biden was unable to add a $15 minimum wage provision to the ARP.

“The PRO Act could have been the most significant thing he did to help unions create a legal system that promotes workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution. “[Biden] has not used muscle power to bring transformative labor law and legislation to the finish line.”

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