On balance, union leaders said they are satisfied with Obama so far, even though they will have to put one of their central demands — opposition to free-trade agreements — on a back burner.

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For U.S. unions, the election of Barack Obama is a matter of win some, lose some.

On the campaign trail, the Democrat pledged to be an advocate for labor. He is delivering by promising a huge infrastructure-spending program to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs and a labor secretary who will give the unions a Cabinet-level voice in his administration. He also assured them of his support for a law making it easier for workers to organize.

On balance, union leaders said they are satisfied with Obama so far, even though they will have to put one of their central demands — opposition to free-trade agreements — on a back burner.

“Labor by and large understands that in this economic crisis a lot of things can potentially happen that would be good for them going forward,” said Joseph McCartin, a labor professor at Georgetown University. “Raising a problem for Obama right now probably won’t be to their advantage.”

That’s because even partial gains are an improvement for unions after eight years without a voice in the Bush administration. It may also be because the president-elect, who won with the help of an unprecedented push from organized labor, has the upper hand as he works to avert a further financial meltdown that threatens to push millions of already struggling workers — and possibly their unions — out of work.

Behind the scenes, however, labor officials are grumbling over the appointments to Obama’s economic team, particularly his selection of New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary and former Treasury chief Lawrence Summers to be the president’s White House economic director. Both are linked to Robert Rubin, who pushed the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as former President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary.

“Labor is completely underrepresented here, both in terms of people and ideology,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, head of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the country’s largest nurses union. “But labor will be hesitant to say that because they have done a lot to elect Obama and a lot of members of Congress and now they are in a double bind.”

Campaigning in Ohio and other union-heavy states during the Democratic primary, Obama, 47, reached out to union voters by emphasizing his concerns about the effect of NAFTA on U.S. jobs and said he would consider renegotiating the accord.

He seldom mentioned NAFTA once the party’s nomination was secure, and union leaders said the composition of his economic team sends a different message about his intentions.

Thea Lee, chief international economist at the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, with 10.5 million members, said the unions still believe they can work with Obama’s economic team, even if it top-heavy with senior officials from the pro-trade, fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic Party.

“We certainly hope that the current economic situation has taught all of us that some of the old received wisdom didn’t serve us very well,” she said.

The conciliatory tone is a change from the unions’ confidence before the election, when Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO treasurer, said unions wouldn’t tolerate not having their voice represented in a new Democratic administration.

“Unlike in the past, instead of saying ‘OK, we’ve elected you, now do what’s right by us,’ we are going to keep our machinery in place,” Trumka said.

During the campaign, organized labor spent more than $100 million in support of Obama and Democratic congressional candidates. More than 450,000 union members knocked on doors or made phone calls during the election.

Trumka said labor has spent the last two years identifying the positions that make policy that affect workers and developing people who can fill positions in a new White House. “We won’t get all of them, but we will get a whole lot more than we ever had before,” he predicted.

That may be harder with Geithner and Summers at the helm.

“I’ve heard concerns about the composition of the team,” said Jared Bernstein, who describes himself as an informal adviser to the Obama team and is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a research group partially funded by labor unions.

“But I’ve also heard considerable confidence that the team can implement those aspects of the president-elect’s agenda that are pro-labor,” he said.

A central part of that agenda is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions and is opposed by many big companies. DeMoro said the prospect of passage of the law is one reason unions may be muffling their concerns about Obama’s appointments.

Yet she said labor’s failure to send a stronger message to Obama is a mistake.

“Obama doesn’t get to move on some of his campaign promises without a strong push from the left,” DeMoro said.

Still, Harley Shaiken, a labor-relations professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said unions may find they still have a powerful ally in the Obama administration.

“There are five people on the economic team, and by far the most important, at the head of table, is Barack Obama,” said Shaiken, who along with U.S. Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., has been named as a possible labor-secretary pick.

Bloomberg News reporter Matthew Benjamin contributed to this story.