"Organized labor has been an essential part of the Democratic coalition," said host Chris Hayes on Sunday's Up With Chris Hayes, but that doesn't mean Democrats and unions have always marched in lockstep. This election season, the planning of the Democratic National Convention has garnered stern rebukes from labor leaders—and revealed a party less attentive to labor's concerns than it used to be.
This year's Democratic convention—which begins, ironically, on Labor Day—will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina. North Carolina is a key battleground state, but it's also what's known as a right-to-work state. Right-to-work laws prevent unions from compelling every worker in an organized workplace to pay union dues, effectively meaning that employees can benefit from union-negotiated contracts without supporting the union in return. Organized labor has vigorously opposed right-to-work laws, which make it far more difficult for them to raise funds and organize new members. Currently, 23 states are right-to-work.
Union leaders, displeased with the Democratic Party's decision to hold its convention in a right-to-work state, have scaled back their traditional support for the convention. Unions even held a "shadow convention" in Philadelphia in early August.
President Obama's alliance with organized labor has long been uneasy. Trouble first began when Congress failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for unions to organize more workplaces, and which Obama said he would fight to pass. Following EFCA's demise, Richard Trumka—president of the AFL-CIO, America's largest trade federation—threatened to pull support for the Democratic Party in the next election. However, the AFL-CIO ultimately endorsed Obama and committed its grassroots organizing support to the campaign.
More recently, Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, tried to publicly distance the president from teachers unions, saying that their relationship was "anything but cozy." That was well after American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association both endorsed Obama, with the NEA's endorsement arriving over a year before Election Day 2012.
However, Hayes said, Obama had done some substantive good for the labor movement. "There are some very good appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, including one recess appointment the AFL-CIO fought very hard for," he said. "There's some beefed up staffing at the Department of Labor under [Labor Secretary] Hilda Solis, and some enforcement on wage theft."