If there was any doubt regarding the influence organized labor may exert in the Obama Administration, the selection of Patrick Gaspard as Director of the Office of Political Affairs should lay those doubts to rest.
Prior to serving as the Associate Director of Personnel for the new administration’s transition team, Gaspard served as the Executive Vice President of Politics and Legislation for Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a very large and influential labor organization. Gaspard’s union loyalties will no doubt have some bearing on his roll as Political Director, a position criticized by many as being unnecessary and/or a propagator of party divisiveness.
Partisanship notwithstanding, Gaspard’s appointment may be a harbinger of things to come. Top vacancies need to be filled in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Department of Labor (DOL) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and organized labor is demanding that these posts be filled by supporters of labor. John Wilhelm, co-President of UNITE-HERE said in a leaked September memo:
We should have only one demand of an Obama administration: that the President of the United States publicly, repeatedly, and strenuously advocate that workers have unions, because unions are necessary to build a good America; that he apply that advocacy to specific worker fights and not just general statements; and that he put people on the [National Labor Relations Board] and in his cabinet who share that view and are committed to implementing it.
If these positions are seeded with strong proponents of organized labor, expect much stronger employee protections and employer regulations within the coming years. As it currently stands, Ellen Moran, a former official with the AFL-CIO, has been named as Obama’s Director of Communications. In addition, Duane Woerth, former President of the Air Line Pilots Association, is rumored to be in the running to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Moreover, several labor officials or those with strong labor ties are being discussed as candidates for Secretary of Labor, including AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson and Mary Beth Maxwell, the Executive Director of American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group.