Dear Mr. President…

Volume CVIII, No. 12December, 2008

Joel LeFevre
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Photo by Zyrcster via Flickr.

Change is here. Barack Obama will soon be in the White House. So will a large majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress. And in New York, Democrats control both legislative chambers for the first time in 43 years.

So what does the labor movement expect from these new leaders whom we worked so hard to elect? 

We expect action from three places: Washington, Albany and from you. As Obama said on election night: “This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change.”

Here’s some of the labor movement’s wish list.


Forty-seven million people with no health insurance — and Medicare about to triple its patient load over the next 15 years — is a cry out for reform.

When people go without routine preventive care or access to physicians at early signs of trouble, it costs hundreds of billions of dollars later in more expensive acute care. We expect the Obama administration to drastically reduce the number of uninsured people and lead a path toward universal comprehensive health care. 


This is the top legislative priority of organized labor. In a nutshell, the act would allow workers the chance to form a union by signing cards, rather than submit to an election process that has been fraught with employer intimidation and abuses.

This bill is the only way to reverse the last 30 years of evisceration of labor law by a succession of pro-employer labor boards and conservative appointments to the bench.

Growing the labor movement is imperative to setting labor standards that have proven to bring progress in living standards for entire communities.

The fact is that when working people have a voice life gets better for everyone. The union movement brought people a whole lot more than just the weekend and retirement plans.

But now the middle class is in trouble. We’re in more and more debt, paying runaway medical insurance and higher education costs — all while incomes are not keeping up.

Millions of people need more opportunity to make more money. They must have the chance to do what millions of Americans did after World War II: unionize. That is the key to nurturing and sustaining the middle class.

When I campaigned for Obama in Philadelphia, we had lists of union member households to call on. We could literally see the difference a union job makes in the neighborhood of small two-story brick houses I walked. The union family’s houses always seemed to look a little better: better lawns and hedges, better-looking doors, and newer cars in the driveways. As a test, I stopped looking at my list, turned over the page on the clipboard, and for a long block only stopped at the better-maintained properties. When I checked it, nine of the 13 doors I canvassed on that street were union households. Growing unions means growing prosperity.

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Federal support for education has drifted into a murky cloud of test results and rhetoric that is both anti-teacher and anti-union. This has forced teachers to make sure their students know how to take tests instead of master the material.

Arts education gets caught in the numbers game. Since the arts don’t deliver test results, the arts aren’t considered worth funding, according to federal aid formulas. So financially stressed school districts cut music, visual art and other after-class programs.

The arts stimulate young brains to grow and be creative. The horrific result of “test-only” curriculums is that entire generations lose the thrill of live music, both as music-makers and music-appreciators.


The National Endowment for the Arts has been decimated. Every orchestra in the country that didn’t have two hedge fund managers on its board has suffered. And even those that do are now feeling the pinch. Simply put, we have to revive the NEA before resuscitation becomes impossible. 


The labor movement expects the new government to follow through on its promise to end the Iraq war and bring the troops home. Also, the Obama administration must reverse recent decisions that had reduced veterans’ benefits.


The economy and energy independence must be linked. The consumer economy dependent on cheap oil cannot sustain itself. Unbelievably, the Bush administration let expire federal energy tax credits for solar power. A wave of green infrastructure investment will employ millions and stimulate the economy for long-term sustainable growth.

The near collapse of the banking and insurance systems — based on unregulated risk-taking by major institutions — calls for reform and oversight by federal authorities.


Lastly, we expect that union members — as well as every activist who got this president elected — will be asked to participate in the new government. Much of this will be done in a new way, via social networking. I’ll write more about this in the future, but I predict that we will see a new two-way communication with this administration, which will balloon in the months ahead.