Organized labor spent heavily to elect a Democratic Congress in
2006. With the presidency at stake, unions are expected to spend up to
$360 million by November, more than twice as much as four years ago.
At the top of labor’s agenda is the misnamed Employee Free Choice
Act, which would deny employees the opportunity to vote before a union
takes over their workplace.
Today, organized labor represents just 7.5 percent of private
employees. Labor officials blame their woes on the fact that they must
win a secret ballot to force company recognition. So organized labor
proposes doing away with elections if 50 percent of the workers plus
one sign a card.
Unions dislike secret ballots, which protect workers from
retaliation for rejecting representation. In contrast, labor organizers
find it much easier to mislead and harass workers to sign a union card.
Bruce Raynor of the union UNITE HERE says simply: “There’s no need to
subject the workers to an election.” Ironically, a Zogby poll found
that 84 percent of union members believed in certification elections.
EFCA didn’t go anywhere this year, but come November, the Democrats
are likely to increase their margins in Congress, even possibly
reaching a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate. Labor also is
campaigning for Barack Obama. Bill Darling, the AFL-CIO’s legislative
director, said that a Democratic presidential victory “could be an
opportunity for historic change.”
Earlier this year Obama endorsed the “card check” bill, promising:
“We’re ready to play offense for organized labor — letting them do what
they do best: organize our workers.” Andy Stern, head of the Service
Employees International Union, predicted that EFCA would cause unions
to “grow by 1.5 million members a year, not just for five years but for
10 to 15 straight years.” More employees mean more dues.
Some of that money would go for organization campaigns. Observes
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, EFCA “could trigger a surge
in unionization across U.S. industry — and in time, a reversion to the
bloated economy that brought America to its knees in the late 1970s and
early ’80s and that today cripples much of European business.”
Alas, many unions today are as interested in politics as economics.
They see the political process as the best way to get what they can’t
win through negotiation in a free market.
Labor consultant Jonathan Tasini reported that “unions spend seven
to 10 times what they give candidates and parties on internal
mobilization,” which he figured meant “$8 billion to as much as $12
billion on federal elections alone” between 1979 and 2004. EFCA would
enable organized labor to pour even more money into campaigns, spurring
passage of union-supported legislation.
For instance, labor is pushing Congress to override state laws
limiting unionization of public safety employees, open the Traffic
Safety Administration to organizing, and reverse recent National Labor
Relations Board decisions defining “supervisors,” who are exempt from
collective bargaining requirements. Organized labor also has attacked
the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which targets union
Despite the explosion of opportunity afforded Americans through
economic growth, technological transformation and rapid globalization,
many unions also lobby government to enforce economic stasis in the
name of protecting their members. For instance, in a labor-dominated
Congress, initiatives promoting trade liberalization would die.
A larger Democrat majority in Congress likely would hike, not cut,
taxes. A labor-dominated congressional majority likely would restrict
alternative capital sources, such as private equity. Spending would
surge. Private Social Security accounts and market-oriented Medicare
reform options would be off the table.
Teachers unions would block any proposals for parental choice and
school accountability. Unions would work to kill consumer-oriented
health care, such as health savings accounts. Finally, a more
influential labor movement would join trial attorneys to block tort
reform. The Democratic House voted to create new investor liabilities
as part of the subprime lending bailout.
Some businesses have attempted to immunize themselves by locking in
regulations today. Most rules, however, could be changed by a future
Another business strategy has been to hire Democratic lobbyists, but
an overwhelming Democratic victory likely would generate an unstoppable
labor policy tsunami.
Congress should reject card check on its merits. Workers are entitled to a secret ballot over unionization.
Abandoning workplace elections would allow organized labor to
intimidate its way to greater power and money, which would, in turn, be
used to promote a left-wing economic agenda. The public would pay a
high price for years to come.
Doug Bandow is vice president of policy for citizen outreach and the
Bastiat scholar in free enterprise at the Competitive Enterprise
Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is
the author of “Leviathan Unchained: Washington’s Bipartisan Big