09/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Joe Biden Good For Labor? Mostly, Yes.

As a whole, Joe Biden is considered a friend of labor. But, he doesn't have a perfect voting record as far as labor is concerned. Lifetime, he has an 85 percent voting record on votes the AFL-CIO considers crucial over the past 12 years (that is the time period available on-line...and that's the best you are going to get on a Saturday morning). You have to keep in mind that the AFL-CIO usually creates its scorecard, like many other organizations, based on specific votes deemed particularly crucial, not the hundreds of votes a Senator might cast in a given term.

If you want the specifics below, go for it -- I mostly highlighted votes below where he and labor parted company, or where there are votes that indicate positions that are relevant to issues coming up in the future. But, for the lazy, and more sane people who want to have a life on Saturday morning, here's what I would say generally. Throughout his career, Biden has been a strong supporter of labor rights here in the U.S., from union organizing rights to protecting prevailing wage laws. He is a co-sponsor of the number one priority for labor, the Employee Free Choice Act.

Where are the disagreements? Mostly over trade and immigration. Biden, initially, was a strong support of so-called "free trade" but he seems to have shifted his position a bit in the past few years. That could have been partly partisan -- his votes for so-called "free trade" came during the Clinton administration, but he tended to vote more against so-called "free trade" during the Bush administration. But, it also may be a shift in overall philosophy -- and his votes seem to indicate that he shares a similar view on trade with his potential boss. That is, that trade deals have to include enforceable labor and environment provisions (I've written repeatedly that this is not sufficient but I'll not digress here). It is also worth noting that so-called "free trade" bills have, generally, received more Democratic votes, proportionally, in the Senate than in the House.

On immigration, he has, on occasion, voted for increasing caps for certain immigration visas that the AFL-CIO has opposed. So, that will be something to keep an eye on since immigration will be back on the policy agenda in the new administration.

Okay, for some specifics:

In 1996, out of a total of 7 key pieces of legislation, Biden voted "right" on 6 and wrong on 1. He was a strong labor supporter when it came to basic legislation such as defeating "right to work" legislation and protecting prevailing wage laws. The one "wrong" vote was Bill Clinton's "welfare reform" bill which the AFL-CIO said: "The bill's cuts in food stamp and assistance to legal immigrants were projected to push 1 million children of working parents into poverty and deprive hard-working families help in times of need. It also creates the potential for large-scale job displacement in the public and private sectors. The "workfare" provisions could penalize low-wage unskilled workers by forcing them to compete for jobs with welfare recipients earning sub-minimum wages".

In 1997, he scored a relatively poor voting record for labor, clocking in at just 57 percent based on seven votes. He voted "wrong" by helping to kill a filibuster that would have blocked "fast track" authority, one of the most insidious powers the president has had for a number of years (though it finally expired and has not been renewed): it allows the president to submit a trade deal to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, with no amendments allowed. He also voted for the balanced budget amendment, thought it failed by just one vote to get the two-thirds needed to pass it on to the states for ratification.

In 1998, he voted "right" 7 out of 8 times. His one "wrong" vote was a "yes" vote on an immigration bill that would allow, as the AFL-CIO explained it, "agriculture employers an almost unlimited number of foreign workers under the immigration law's H2A program, and to gut existing worker protections."

In 1999, his one "wrong" vote out of nine votes measured came on a trade bill that expanded the failed so-called "free trade" NAFTA model to sub-Sahara Africa. The AFL-CIO's view: "Trade polices should include worker and environmental protections and provide economic benefits to workers. But H.R. 434, which the Senate amended to include Caribbean Basin Initiative nations, authorized a new trade and investment policy for sub-Sahara Africa without enforceable worker protections and extended NAFTA to CBI countries. It also allowed transshipments of foreign textiles and apparels through African countries, giving other nations the trade benefits intended for African nations. It also did nothing to address one of the major problems the sub-Saharan countries face, a crushing debt burden to developed nations. The Senate passed its version of H.R.434 76-13, Nov. 3, 1999.The bill was sent to conference and no further action was taken in 1999"

In 2000 record, Biden really annoyed labor, voting wrong on 3 out of the 8 votes measured. In my view, the worst vote was his "yes" vote to allow China into the World Trade Organization, a move that came without any attempt to try to enforce basic labor standards as a condition of WTO admission. And we know how that worked out for this country and the world. Biden also voted for school vouchers, which certainly did not endear him to teachers' unions (though it is not clear where he stands now on school vouchers). Finally, he voted "wrong" on an immigration bill again to raise the number of H1B visas (visas that are supposed to be for higher-skilled workers where there is an alleged shortage in the U.S. ) from 115,000 to 195,000.

In 2001, during George W. Bush's first term, Biden had a 100 percent voting "right" record, abstaining on one vote out of 16 measured. Interestingly, he did vote with the winning majority to ban trucks from Mexico, which was seen as a somewhat trade-related vote but was mostly couched as a safety standards issue.

In 2002: here again, Biden had a 100 percent voting record. Interestingly, he voted right on several trade-related pieces of legislation He voted against a "fast track" conference report that, as the AFL-CIO viewed it, "contained weak and flawed provisions on workers' rights and environmental protections, essentially ruling out enforceable standards in future Fast Track trade agreements." He also voted for an amendment (it failed) that would have required U.S. trade negotiators to "seek enforcement provisions that would equal those negotiated in the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. That agreement, negotiated under the Clinton administration, contained meaningful enforceable workers' rights provisions." As part of the "fast track" legislation, he voted for an amendment that would have protected health insurance for steel industry retirees whose companies had gone bankrupt. The amendment was blocked by a filibuster. He also voted to kill a Republican amendment that would have required new onerous union reporting rules.

In 2003, Biden batted 100 percent again based on 13 votes. And, here we find a more pronounced shift on his votes on trade. He voted no on both the U.S.-Singapore and U.S. Chile so-called "free trade" deals. I have not gone to look at his floor statements (c'mon, it is after all Saturday morning) but the main argument against these deals was that they failed to include strong, enforceable labor rights standards. Both of the deals passed.

Biden continued his perfect labor record in 2004, voting "right" on 11 votes. The two interesting votes in 2004 had to do with exporting jobs and immigration. He voted for a bill that would have required multi-national companies to pay federal taxes on income from foreign factories where goods are shipped back to the U.S. The bill would also have required companies to give notification when jobs were being off-shored. What makes this interesting is that Barack Obama has pledged to change federal tax laws that benefit companies who off-shore jobs.

He also voted "right" on a bill that, as the AFL-CIO described it, "was a bipartisan immigration reform proposal that would provide an avenue for 500,000 undocumented farm workers to qualify for permanent residency status through an earned legalization program." The bill failed to pass for complicated procedural fights that blocked an actual vote (Biden's right vote was on the filibuster fight).

In 2005, Biden slipped a bit, only getting 13 out of 14 votes "right". The one vote where he was "wrong" was an energy bill, where the Democratic caucus was split; frankly, I didn't have time to look into the details of this vote but it was considered a job-creation bill by the AFL-CIO; Biden voted "no". More important, he did vote no on the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The bill passed.

In 2006, Biden's only "wrong vote out of 15 measured was on an amendment in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that sought to strike a new program to admit 500,000 guest workers per year on H-2C visas in a variety of occupations. The AFL-CIO's view: "The new visa program lacked sufficient protections for existing wages and benefits. The H-2C visa program would allow employers to petition for temporary workers without a requirement that the work be seasonal or truly temporary, essentially granting employers the ability to turn long-term, skilled work into temporary jobs filled with an easily exploitable workforce, resulting in lower pay and benefits for all." Biden voted to table the amendment and it was killed. But, he continued his newly-found opposition to so-called "free trade" by voting against the Oman Free Trade Agreement. The deal passed.

In 2007, he was all good, voting 14 out of 14 times "right", including amendments to two immigration guest-worker bills that the AFL-CIO opposed.

So, there you have it.