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Obama Seeks to Repair Labor Rift       07/02 06:11

   After the push for trade legislation ruptured relations between the White 
House and organized labor, President Barack Obama is embarking on something of 
a repair mission.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- After the push for trade legislation ruptured relations 
between the White House and organized labor, President Barack Obama is 
embarking on something of a repair mission.

   Within just hours of business leaders joining him at a White House signing 
ceremony for the polarizing trade bill, Obama announced a proposed Labor 
Department rule that would make more workers eligible for overtime. Just like 
that, the tables were turned --- labor praised the move and business leaders 
decried it.

   On Thursday, Obama is traveling to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, to promote the 
overtime plan in the home district of Rep. Ron Kind, one of the 28 House 
Democrats who broke party ranks to side with the president and grant him broad 
trade negotiating powers.

   "It is impossible to insulate the U.S. economy and U.S. workers from the 
broader forces of globalization," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said 
Wednesday. "While the president and congressman Kind have a difference of 
opinion with many leaders of organized labor about this approach, the fact is 
when it comes to the value of looking out for middle-class families, the 
leaders of organized labor and the Obama administration agree just about every 
time."

   It's a message the White House hopes resonates with union members and mends 
a battered relationship between pro-trade Democrats and labor. Union leaders, 
led by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, fought aggressively against the trade 
legislation and vowed to pull their support of Democrats who sided with Obama.

   That legislation, supported by a majority of Republicans, gave Obama "fast 
track" trade negotiating authority, which could clear the path for him to 
complete a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal. If finalized, Congress would have 
the right to approve or reject the agreement, but not change or delay it. The 
deal could be completed in time for Congress to act before the end of the year, 
giving labor yet another opportunity to flex its muscle over its fear that a 
trade deal could cost American jobs.

   "The trade fight is not over," said Bill Samuel, the AFL CIO's legislative 
director.

   Still, the White House and unions have found plenty of common cause in other 
areas. Obama has promoted an increase in the federal minimum wage and advocated 
for paid family and medical leave.

   The overtime rule that Obama announced Monday had been long anticipated. It 
would make up to 5 million more people eligible for overtime by more than 
doubling the earnings threshold under which salaried workers are entitled to 
overtime.

   But the administration waited until after the trade legislation passed to 
propose it. The timing avoided what could have been an awkward and perhaps 
damaging confrontation with the business community while it was promoting the 
president's trade agenda.

   Labor is keeping the issues separate.

   "We intend to work with the administration until their last day in office," 
Samuel said. "We have to do more to address wage inequality than just the 
overtime rule, but it's key start. The trade agenda pushes us in the other 
direction."

   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Tom Donohue, attended the 
trade signing ceremony Monday, issued a blistering critique of the overtime 
rule, saying it would result in workers losing benefits, flexibility and 
advancement opportunities.

   "This change is another example of the administration being completely 
divorced from reality and adding more burdens to employers and expecting them 
to just absorb the impact," said Randy Johnson, a chamber senior vice president.

   Other business groups, whose membership may not be as affected by the 
overtime provision, took a more measured approach.

   Bill Miller, a senior vice president at the Business Roundtable, said his 
group has "long advocated modernization and we intend to be part of the 
rule-making to make it as nondestructive as possible."

   Still trade is a far more defining policy issue.

   Miller said it was "the major centerpiece" of the Obama administration's 
business agenda.

   "The cooperation, the collaboration and the execution was done in a way that 
we're very hopeful is the blueprint for going forward in the last 18 months of 
the administration," he said.


(KA)


 
 
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