Labor Goes for the Brass Ring
Organized labor spent
tens of millions of dollars and untold man hours to help elect a
Democratic Congress in 2006. So far the pay-off has been modest. But
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.
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 12
percent of all workers and 7.5 percent of private employees. Labor
officials blame their woes on the fact that they must win a secret
ballot regarding representation whenever 30 percent of workers sign a
union card. So organized labor proposes doing away with elections if 50
percent of the workers plus one sign a card.
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.
ECFA didn’t go anywhere this year. But labor can wait.
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 and against John
McCain. Bill Darling, the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, said that a
Democratic presidential victory "could be an opportunity for historic
Earlier this year Obama endorsed Card Check, promising:
"We’re ready to play offense for organized labor…letting them do what
they do best: organize our workers." If EFCA becomes law, it would
sharply increase the number of unionized employees. Andy Stern, head of
the Service Employees International Union, predicts that ECFA 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 union
dues. On average, every one percent increase in workforce unionization
would add another half billion dollars in revenue.
Some of that
money would go for organization campaigns. Unfortunately, forced
unionization guarantees sclerotic economies. Observed Jack Welch,
former CEO of General Electric, ECFA "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."
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.
Unions spent over $104
million directly and a multiple of that indirectly on the 2006
election. 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.
would enable organized labor to pour even more money into campaigns,
spurring passage of union-supported legislation. For instance, unions
are 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. Labor also has led an assault in the Democratic Congress
on the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which enforces laws and
regulations against union corruption.
BUT THE OFFICIAL union
agenda goes far beyond traditional labor law. Despite the explosion of
opportunity afforded Americans through economic growth, technological
transformation, and rapid globalization, many unions are lobbying
government to enforce economic stasis in the name of protecting their
That perspective is evident in the Democratic
presidential campaign. During the primaries Barack Obama, who has a 98
percent lifetime AFL-CIO rating, increasingly articulated a populist,
anti-business, anti-market agenda. Whatever his intellectual
preferences, he is committed to organized labor, which provides much of
his campaign muscle. In fact, union members or retired union members
accounted for a quarter of Democratic delegates.
labor-dominated Congress, initiatives promoting trade liberalization —
such as renewing presidential "fast-track" negotiating authority and
passing the three pending free trade agreements — would die. Congress
might even impose new restrictions on international commerce.
more Democratic Congress likely would hike, not cut, taxes. Personal
income and capital gains tax rates would rise. Genuine tax reform would
A labor-oriented congressional majority likely would
restrict alternative capital sources, such as private equity. The Bear
Stearns bail-out would become an excuse for enacting the entire liberal
Spending would surge. Moreover, as Medicare
and Social Security slid ever faster towards insolvency, a
union-dominated Congress would turn to massive borrowing and tax hikes.
Private Social Security accounts and market-oriented Medicare 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, and press for enhanced employer-provided health insurance,
which has led to today’s cost-plus system of medicine.
a more influential labor movement would join trial attorneys to kill
any hope of tort reform. Last fall the House voted to create new
investor liabilities as part of the subprime bailout.
BUSINESSES believe that they can immunize themselves by locking in
regulations today, while the GOP still holds the White House. But most
of the rules could be changed by a future administration.
business strategy has been to hire Democratic lobbyists. Ivan Adler of
the McCormick Group, an executive recruiter, told the New York Times:
"It’s a bull market for Democrats, especially those who have worked for
the congressional leadership." But a GOP electoral debacle likely would
generate an unstoppable Democratic policy tsunami, irrespective of how
many lobbyists business deployed.
Congress should reject card check on its merits. Workers are entitled to a secret ballot over unionization.
there’s another reason for anyone committed to a freer economy should
oppose ECFA. Abandoning workplace elections would allow organized labor
to intimidate its way to greater power and money which would, in turn,
be used to promote the entire left-wing economic agenda.
vast majority of Americans — and union members — support holding
representation elections, which protect workers and employers alike.
Yet organized labor is working overtime to override the public’s
interest. If the unions succeed, the public will pay a high price for
years to come.
Doug Bandow is the Bastiat Scholar at
the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Vice President of Policy for
Citizen Outreach. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald
Reagan, he is the author of Leviathan Unchained: Washington’s Bipartisan Big Government Consensus (forthcoming, Xulon Press).