So far Barack Obama has surprised supporters and opponents alike by choosing centrists for his economic and foreign policy teams. The leading exception is Labor Secretary-designate Rep. Hilda Solis, a long-time supporter of coercive unionism. The principal congressional battle is likely to be over so-called card check, which would allow Big Labor to intimidate its way to increased power.
People obviously should be free to join unions. But the vast majority of Americans choose not to do so, which is why organized labor represents only 7.5 percent of private sector workers.
Of course, Big Labor blames everyone else for its troubles. Evil employers. Economic woes. Unfair laws. So union officials want to fix the game.
Labor relations should be left up to companies and workers, with the government simply enforcing agreements and prohibiting violence. However, unions routinely attempt to win through politics what they cannot win through economics.
Current law requires that unions win a representation election to force recognition. Collecting cards signed by 30 percent of employees triggers a vote.
However, unions lose 40 percent of the time, so labor activists complain that America is, well, a bit like Nazi Germany. The AFL-CIO says that “workers still lack the freedom to form unions” and companies are blocking “workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life” and “putting corporate power ahead of the freedom to form unions.”
Labor activists prefer to collect cards than contest elections. Then employers have little opportunity to inform workers about the costs of unionization. Moreover, organizers know which workers have been naughty or nice, and can employ a variety of tools of “persuasion” to win signatures. The AFL-CIO organizing handbook admits that employees often sign cards to “get the union off my back.”
But unions use more than social pressure. Warns Carl Horowitz at the National Legal and Policy Center, card check “opens workers up to undue pressure from union reps and fellow workers who support them.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce observes that “the annals of NLRB case law are packed full of examples where card check elections have been challenged on coercion, misrepresentation, forgery, fraud, peer pressure, and promised benefits.”
Frustrated employees report harassing phone calls, groups of union organizers visiting workers’ homes, and threats of violence. For instance, Karen M. Mayhew, a Kaiser Permanente employee, complains of “badgering and immense peer pressure.” Mike Ivey of the Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation told the National Right Work Legal Defense Foundation that “relentless” union organizers “created a hostile work environment” and misrepresented the significance of signing the cards.
There is little the government can do to protect employees. All told, argue James Sherk and Paul Kersey of the Heritage Foundation: “Cards collected under those circumstances often do not reflect employees’ free choice. Consequently card-check allows union activists to organize plants where a majority of workers oppose the union.” In practice, secret ballot elections remain the ultimate defense for workers.
Of course, Big Labor claims otherwise. Union lawyer Aaron Knapp said the legislation “does not affect the option to hold a secret ballot NLRB election,” even though the explicit goal of labor activists is to preempt a vote. For instance, Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO says: “Elections just don’t work.” Bruce Raynor of UNITE HERE argues that “There’s no need to subject the workers to an election.”
As a result, union lobbyists are pushing the hilariously misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act.” The AFL-CIO contends that it wants to “level the playing field for workers looking to form unions” by stopping them from voting. If 50 percent plus one of the workers sign a card, the union will be automatically recognized. Thus, organized labor can easily intimidate its way to victory. The bill should be called the “Employee No Choice Act.”
Explained Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the bill is “payback.” He added, “Unions paid their dues by supporting Democrats and President-elect Barack Obama in this year’s election.” This explains the nomination of Rep. Solis.
IF APPROVED — in 2007 a Senate filibuster launched by a much stronger Republican caucus killed the bill — card check would bolster union ranks and budgets. For instance, Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union, which has been caught up in the Rod Blagojevich scandal, forecasts that ECFA [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.” Increased labor revenues would run in the billions of dollars.
That’s a lot of extra cash. Some of it undoubtedly would go for more organization campaigns. Warns Jack Welch, formerly of General Electric, the result could be “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.” It is hard to imagine a worse time for a turn towards economic stasis, with the U.S. in recession and a multitude of companies seeking public bail-outs.
Much of new union money would go into politics. Organized labor spent nearly a half billion dollars in 2008. The unions didn’t expend that money for altruistic reasons. Earlier this year, Bill Darling, the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, predicted that a Democratic presidential victory “could be an opportunity for historic change.”
Big Labor’s basic agenda is to mulct money from the rest of us. One goal is to further tilt labor law towards union-organizers. Along with card check organized labor wants to impose contracts through arbitration, an enormous shift of power away from market to government.
Union leaders also want to overturn decisions of the NLRB on such esoteric issues as the definition of supervisors, who are exempt from bargaining requirements. Union lobbyists have been pushing to prohibit companies from replacing strikers — who have walked off of their jobs. Organized labor backs legislation to unionize federal security personnel at the Transportation Security Agency, as well force states and localities to allow unionization of public safety employees. Labor also wants to cripple the Office of Labor Management Standards, which monitors union spending and corruption (convictions were up 20 percent last year).
Moreover, the modern labor movement has become highly redistributionist. Organized labor has been pressing for an auto industry bailout. It opposes consumer-oriented health care and supports nationalizing the medical system. Union leaders oppose reforming Social Security to give workers individual accounts. Organized labor wants to mandate paid family leave and create a new legal spoils system in the name of combating gender salary discrimination.
Big Labor backs higher taxes and almost all federal spending programs. Unions lobby incessantly to limit free trade and raise the minimum wage, which limits competition from lesser skilled workers. Organized labor has allied itself with the personal injury bar, opposing tort reform.
UNION OPPORTUNITIES for looting will only grow in the new bailout state. For instance, labor activists, backed by the usual Democratic politicians and left-wing activists, used the federal bank bailout to effectively shake down Bank of America to continue lending to a bankrupt firm. President-elect Barack Obama is likely to be even more susceptible to pleas from his political allies for financial aid and support.
No wonder a recent Gallup poll found that only one-third of Americans want unions to have more influence. Even union members overwhelmingly support secret ballot elections. A Zogby poll found that union members support representation elections by an overwhelming margin of 84 to 11 percent.
Ironically, the best argument against the card check “Forced Unionization Act” comes from its supporters. For instance, labor activists do believe in elections when workers are seeking to decertify unions. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court, the AFL-CIO argues “that a representation election ‘is a solemn…occasion, conducted under safeguards to voluntary choice.'”
Moreover, the “representation election system provides the surest means of avoiding decisions which are ‘the result of group pressures and not individual decision.'”
Seven years ago Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chief House sponsor of card check, joined 15 other House members to urge Mexico “to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections.” The legislators claimed that “increased use of the secret ballot in union recognition elections will help bring real democracy to the Mexican workplace.”
Two years ago Rep. Solis was involved in a bitter dispute within the congressional Hispanic Caucus and complained that the new chairman was not chosen through a secret ballot. “It is important that the integrity of the [Caucus] be unquestioned and above reproach,” she wrote in a multi-member letter to Caucus Chairman Rep. Joe Baca.
Union officials hope to intimidate their way to victory. Giving them greater power over the economy will make all of us poorer.
Doug Bandow is the Bastiat Scholar in Free Enterprise at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Vice President of Policy for Citizen Outreach. He is also the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon Press).