What To Expect From Obama’s Big Worker Summit

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The White House Worker Voice Summit slated for Wednesday will be showcased as a way for workers to express their views, but critics argue the event is simply designed to tout unions.

Labor and economic policies have changed dramatically under President Barack Obama. While supporters of the reforms claim this has helped empower workers, opponents argue it has mostly just helped union bosses and in many cases has hurt workers.

“The summit will focus on how workers can make their voices heard in the workplace in ways that are good for workers and businesses,” a statement from the White House declared. “The labor movement has long served as a powerful force for ensuring that workers’ voices are heard and, as a result, for growing and strengthening the middle class.”

The main area of disagreement is whether unions actually help workers as much as supporters claim. Republicans and business groups have been much more skeptical of how much unions actually benefit workers.

Claims that unions help to improve wages and benefits have been disputed by groups like the conservative Manhattan Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They have argued that while unions might have once been critical for workers, many benefits they used to fight for are now mandated by government and employers have been much better at catering to their employees’ needs.

Recent polling has shown the country is fairly split on union approval. The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, among others, has criticized the White House summit for mostly highlighting workers who favor unionizing.

The summit will include at least some workers who have been more critical of the recent labor reforms. Ciara Stockeland, owner and operator of retail outlet MODE, has spoken out against a rule change by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that impacts small businesses that utilize franchising and many other forms of contracting.

Stockeland noted that she is grateful she will have the chance to voice her concerns to Obama and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. Even so, she is unaware of others like her going to the summit and says she will likely be the minority voice.

“I think from what I have heard, I am in the minority there,” Stockeland told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But I am excited to tell my story.”

Stockeland has spoken previously on behalf of The Coalition to Save Local Businesses, which has opposed the recent NLRB rulings. The coalition includes franchisees and other small business as well as business groups like International Franchise Association. Republicans in both the House and Senate have tried to rein in the NLRB but their attempts have thus far been stopped by the president.

Concerns the summit is skewed in favor of unions have received the attention of other groups as well. So much so that conservative The Heritage Foundation hosted its own summits with the help of the Center for Worker Freedom, the Center for Union Facts, and the Center for Independent Employees.

The summit at Heritage was held the day before the White House gathering. The organizations involved argued the White House is just touting pro-union policies instead of hearing what workers really think. To balance this out, the summit held at Heritage picked workers who have been adversely impacted by unions.

The speakers at Heritage included those like Jesse Rojas who spoke on behalf of Silvia Lopez, a California farm workers. Lopez and thousand of her fellow Latino farm workers became involved in the longest labor hearing in California history. The case has pitted state labor officials, Gerawan Farming management, the farm workers and the United Farm Workers union all against each other.

The Center for Union Facts also released an ad campaign in response to the White House summit. The campaign argues unions often silence workers instead of giving them a voice. The ad ran Wednesday in the New York Post and the Washington, D.C. edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Editor’s Note: the article identified Jesse Rojas as a farm worker at Gerawan. He is a family friend speaking on behalf of Gerawan farm worker Silvia Lopez.

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