20090915 aflcio caroline kennedy 90731633 18
Caroline Kennedy speaks to members of the AFL-CIO at the organization's annual conference in Pittsburgh -- September 14, 2009 - 


Bill Radke: When President Obama goes to Pittsburgh today to address the AFL-CIO's national convention. You might think he would find union members in a happy mood -- he just gave Big Labor a victory when he penalized Chinese tire imports. But the organized labor movement is learning that having friends in high places does not always get you what you want. Reporter Jill Barshay has our story.

Jill Barshay: Organized labor can finally dial the White House again.

Richard Hurd is a professor of labor studies at Cornell University. He says union officials even got key posts inside the Department of Labor.

Richard Hurd: They have a better relationship with the Obama administration not only than they had with the previous three Republican administrations, but also a better relationship than with the Clinton administration or the Carter administrations.

But other than a few minor victories, like the China trade sanctions, organized labor doesn't have much to show for its access to the White House. The union movement's big push to reform labor laws in Obama's first 100 days failed.

Hurd: There are some real problems because the National Labor Relations Board has three vacancies out of five seats. And so basically, the implementation and enforcement of our labor laws has ground to a halt.

Hurd says unions will have to increase their numbers beyond 7 percent of the private sector workforce to have real influence.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.