What Labor Wants–And Needs

What Labor Wants–And Needs

As interest groups lobbied the Clinton transition team for cabinet appointments and Clinton groped for “diversity” in his cabinet, one group was noticeably silent—organized labor. Appointing Robert Reich as labor secretary was a good start, clearly linking labor’s fate to the nation’s economic future. Organized labor today is about as weak as it was before Roosevelt’s New Deal instituted a new era of labor standards, with the Wagner Act and the National Labor Relations Act. Approximately 12 percent of the private sector work force is organized; the figure goes up to 16 percent when public-sector unions are included. President Clinton needs a revived labor movement to “grow” the economy—and labor must change to adapt to a new economic landscape.

The most immediate item on the unions’ agenda is job creation—high-wage jobs with good benefits. These must be family-friendly jobs. Early passage of the Family Medical Leave Act was a step in the right direction (though most working men and women can’t afford the unpaid parental leave provided for in the act). There must also be a national commitment to affordable and safe child care for working parents.

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