Unions press Senate to change jobs bill

The AFL-CIO is pressing the Senate to add an extension of unemployment and healthcare benefits to a new jobs bill. 

The nation’s largest labor coalition also wants the Senate to add relief for state and local pension funds before the bill receives a vote later this week. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“Some have raised budgetary objections to this bill, arguing that the overall cost is too great and must be fully offset,” Bill Samuel, director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO, writes in a June 10 letter. 

“To require cuts in federal spending or additional tax increases to offset the full cost of the bill — including its temporary, emergency relief measures — would partially or fully cancel out the economic boost that the bill is designed to deliver.”

In arguing for the bill, Samuel cites an estimate by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, that the bill would create 1 million jobs. 

The push by the labor group comes as Democrats in the House and Senate grow increasingly anxious about voting in favor of any spending provisions that would add to the deficit. The House version of the legislation was stripped down following complaints from conservative Democrats. 

President Barack Obama wrote to congressional leaders over the weekend urging them not to let concerns about the deficit prevent them from supporting measures to lower unemployment and help states deal with budget shortfalls. 

Samuel wrote that he expects Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) to offer an amendment extending healthcare benefits for the unemployed, known as COBRA, to November 2010. 

Samuel also said the AFL-CIO supports a provision authored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that would provide funding for multi- and single-employer pension plans. The lobbyist says the provision is necessary because it will help employers “weather the current economic downturn and avoid additional layoffs.”

Additionally, the AFL-CIO wants the Senate to include requirements that 401(k) providers disclose all fees related to their plans. The House included such requirements in its version of the tax extenders bill.

Other labor officials are also pressing the Senate. 

Gerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in a statement last week that the Senate needs to move quickly on the legislation. In addition, he said senators must not cut out $24 billion to fund emergency relief for state and local governments. 

“Senators have to realize the American people support this funding, even if it increases our short-term deficit,” McEntee said. “They understand that, at this critical moment, the deficit matters — but jobs matter more. They know that the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs will implode our economic recovery and devastate communities.”