Card Check: Key to Union Control in US

Organized labor spent heavily to elect a Democratic Congress in America’s 2006 election. 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 (EFCA), 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 ten 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 corruption.

Despite the explosion of opportunity afforded Americans through economic growth, technological transformation, and rapid globalization, many unions also are lobbying 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 more Democratic 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. But most rules can be changed by a future administration.

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. American workers are entitled to a secret ballot over unionization.

Moreover, 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 U.S. 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 Government Consensus" (forthcoming, Xulon Press).