Big Labor’s Big Disappointment

Recently Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the AFL-CIO executive council in Florida. As Ricky Ricardo used to tell Lucy, Labor thinks the Vice President’s “got some ’splainin’ to do.”

The Vice President was defensive saying “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but we’ve come a long way in 12 months … In terms of the NLRB, we’re going to get it done. In the fight for EFCA, we’ve got to sit down and figure out where we go from here…. I think we’re going to get it done.”

The Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress have fallen far short of the promises they made to Big Labor during the 2008 campaign. Unions have not seen any significant legislative victories despite Democrats holding the White House and large majorities in both houses of Congress.

Labor’s top priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, is on life support and both labor leaders and Democrats have acknowledged it will likely not pass it its current form. Other versions have been proposed but none have been introduced.

EFCA, in its current form, would effectively eliminate the secret ballot in union organizing elections. This process is known as card check. The bill would also allow mandatory binding arbitration by government bureaucrats if a contract was not agreed to within 120 days of a union being formed and one side demanded the process.

In January AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told an audience at the National Press Club he was confident a version of EFCA would pass by the end of the first quarter of 2010. Seeing as it is now March and there is no sign of EFCA, in any version, being voted on, this prediction is very unlikely to be correct.

The different versions of EFCA lead to the next failure of Democrats to deliver to Big Labor. Craig Becker, who was an AFL-CIO, SEIU, and ACORN lawyer, was President Obama’s nominee to the National Labor Relations Board. Unions saw Becker as their white knight in the card check battle. Becker thought, through his position on the NLRB, he could help bring about card check administratively and bypass those pesky congressional votes.

In February Becker failed to receive the 60 votes needed in the Senate and was not confirmed. Richard Trumka is now demanding the President bypass the Senate and appoint Becker by recess appointment.

Rumors that card check would be included in the latest jobs bill were also unfounded.

Finally labor leaders needed to take Obama to the woodshed to prevent Democrats taxing lavish union health care plans. The result was a promise by the administration that unions would be exempt from the “Cadillac Healthcare Plan Tax” until 2018. The current debate over healthcare is not over and this promise too may fall short.

Labor leaders are increasingly sounding frustrated. Politico reported John Gage president of the American Federation of Government Employees remarked in February “Here’s labor getting thrown under the bus again …It’s really frustrating for labor, and a lot of union people are thinking: we put out big time in money and volunteers and support. And it seems like the little things that could have been aren’t being done.”

Trumka summarized the latest jobs bill as a “Band-Aid on an amputated limb”

All is not lost for Big Labor. While they have not been able to get their agenda pushed through Congress, union bosses have been more successful in reaching their goals behind the scenes.

At the Department of Labor, President Obama named congresswoman Hilda Solis Secretary of the Department of Labor. In her last campaign for Congress, four of her five biggest campaign contributors were labor unions – and the fifth was the trial lawyers’ American Association for Justice.

There are plenty of labor union related appointees in place throughout the Administration – for example, Patrick Gaspard, the former political director for a huge SEIU local is now in charge of the White House Office of Political Affairs – the post once held by Karl Rove. Labor officials have been appointed to Obama’s economic recovery commission and the Federal Election Commission.

Andy Stern, head of the Service Employee’s International Union, was the most frequent visitor to the White House according to the most recent list of White House visitors released by the Administration. Conservative groups have cried foul demanding Stern re-register as a lobbyist.

With President Obama, Secretary Solis and the rest in charge, how has it worked out for the unions?

The President has signed not one or two but three Executive Orders with the intent of enhancing union positions. One requires federal contractors who take over from other contractors to retain the employees used by the former contractor – essentially, a federal job guarantee even though the employees work for private companies.

Two other Executive Orders require government contractors to post notices for employees about their rights to form unions – and prevent government contractors from seeking reimbursement for the cost of planning and communicating with their employees about the employer’s opposition to union organization efforts.

Secretary Solis and her political allies have withdrawn for “further study” rules intended to promote disclosure of union finances. After lengthy review and public comment, the Bush Administration issued new regulations calling for more detailed information to be filed by unions and trusts controlled by unions. The disclosure forms are called the T-1, LM-2 and LM-3 forms. These disclosure forms are administered by the Office of Labor Management Standards. OLMS is the office charged with enforcing laws requiring unions to make information available to their members.

President Obama also appointed John Lund, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School for Workers to head OLMS. During the Bush administration Lund consistently argued on behalf of the AFL-CIO for weaker union reporting standards. It seems likely that the “revised” forms will allow unions to hide their expense more easily. The revisions are another reward for Big Labor at the expense of transparency.

Big Labor has a big problem in Congress – but some big allies in the Obama administration – allies that union bosses are using to achieve in the back room what they cannot achieve in public. Still after investing over $400 million to help elect President Obama and other Democrats throughout the nation, Big Labor is expecting a big return.