Recalling Big Labor’s 1966 Electoral ‘Reproof’

After 14(b) Showdown, Union-Label Politicians Were Shellacked

Time and again over the years, when U.S. senators and congressmen have had to go on the record “for” or “against” Right to Work in a recorded floor vote, opponents of voluntary unionism have suffered dire political consequences when their constituents subsequently went to the polls.

This year, National Right to Work Committee leaders and members are commemorating the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most striking example of the electoral potency of the forced-unionism issue yet to occur.

Most Members of Congress Voted For 14(b) Repeal ernst-mix

The Big Labor debacle that commenced during the 1966 Congressional Primaries and reached a climax in that November’s General Elections was a consequence of recent votes by most members of both chambers of Congress for H.R.77, legislation to “repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act.”

Since 14(b) was and is the only provision in federal labor law explicitly authorizing states to ban compulsory unionism, its repeal would have gutted all state Right to Work laws.

After being introduced and rammed through the Sub-Committee on Labor by union-label Congressman Frank Thompson (D-N.J.), the panel’s chairman, H.R.77 reached the U.S. House floor during the summer of 1965.

Despite overwhelming public opposition, largely mobilized by the Committee, the House voted in a close 221-203 roll call on July 28 to repeal Section 14(b).

Pro-Right to Work Americans were disappointed, but they didn’t give up. They immediately began turning up the pressure on the Senate. At the time, if the entire upper chamber was present, 34 out of 100 senators could defeat a “cloture motion” and keep a debate going indefinitely.

In three Senate cloture roll calls held in October 1965 and February 1966, Big Labor never secured more than 51 votes, far fewer than the 67 needed to end debate on H.R.77 so that the Thompson bill could be rubber-stamped.

After the third cloture motion secured fewer votes than the second, Big Labor Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) finally threw in the towel.

After a Campaign Surpassing Previous Off-Year Efforts, Big Labor Got ‘Clobbered’

But Committee members and supporters knew the battle to save 14(b) was only half over. Next they had to prevent the union political machine from exacting vengeance at the polls against pro-Right to Work elected officials.

Union chieftains like George Meany, Walter Reuther, and Jimmy Hoffa, who then respectively headed the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, and the Teamsters, poured vast sums of money from their forced-dues-funded treasuries into efforts to protect their friends and hurt their enemies on Capitol Hill.

As the Christian Science Monitor put it, union officials “campaigned harder” in 1966 “than in any other off-year election.” But in the end, as one union spokesman admitted off the record to Business Week shortly after Election Day, they got “clobbered” anyway.

Thirty-nine House members who had voted to wipe out 14(b) were defeated in primaries or the general elections in 1966.

Union boss-endorsed candidates also performed poorly in “open seat” races, so that Big Labor’s net strength in the House plummeted by 49 seats, according to a post-election analysis by U.S. News & World Report.

Meanwhile, not one House member who had voted to protect 14(b) was defeated by a 14(b) opponent.

AFL-CIO Czar’s Admission: There ‘Is a Question Of Where the Vote Went’

Even George Meany implicitly acknowledged at a news conference that the 1966 Elections had been a catastrophe for Big Labor: “[T]here is a question of where the vote went … [T]here are indications we didn’t get the percentage of the vote we  got in the past and we want to see why.”

Because the overwhelming majority of the senators who had embraced the 14(b) repeal scheme did not have to face the voters in 1966, the magnitude of the legislative battle’s impact on the upper chamber wasn’t immediately apparent.

But after the dust from the 1970 elections had settled, and all the seats of senators voting on 14(b) had finally come up for grabs, Big Labor had lost a net of eight Senate seats.

Between 1966 and 1970, a steady stream of pro-forced unionism senators, including Ross Bass (D-Tenn.), David Brewster (D-Md.), Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.), Al Gore Sr. (D-Tenn.), and Ralph Yarborough (D-Texas), were defeated by avowed 14(b) proponents.

In Obama Era, Votes For Monopolistic Unionism Still Fraught With Political Risk

Top union bosses were, it seems, shaken by what syndicated columnist John Chamberlain aptly labeled as an electoral “reproof.” They have never since mounted such a direct attack on Right to Work laws at the federal level.

Instead, Big Labor has pushed for policies that would in practice help it seize more power over workers and funnel more forced dues into union coffers while leaving state Right to Work laws formally on the books.

One notorious recent example is the cynically mislabeled “Employee Free Choice Act,” which would have greatly enhanced union bosses’ power to secure monopoly-bargaining privileges over employees solely through the acquisition of signed “union authorization cards.”

From 2007 to 2010, mandatory “card checks” were the union hierarchy’s top legislative objective. In 2007, Big Labor Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rammed “card-check” legislation through the House, and in the Senate Right to Work supporters were able to stop it only via an extended debate.

But after forced-unionism champion Barack Obama was sent to the White House and the American people were confronted with the genuine possibility that mandatory “card checks” could become law, support for such legislation quickly became an electoral albatross.

“In the 2010 general elections,” recalled National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix, “48 House and Senate incumbents who had voted for the ‘card-check’ scheme and/or cosponsored it lost their re-election bids. This was a clear electoral repudiation.

“‘Card-check’ forced unionism helped end Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as House speaker in 2010, and four years later it helped oust Big Labor politician Harry Reid [D-Nev.] from his position as Senate majority leader.

“Even in 2014, their pro-‘card-check’ records continued to dog the campaigns of two of Mr. Reid’s caucus members, Sens. Mark Pryor [D-Ark.] and Mary Landrieu [D-La.]. Both ultimately went down to defeat.”

Momentum Swings Towards Right to Work

“In addition to their ‘card-check’ votes,” Mr. Mix noted, “Mr. Pryor and Ms. Landrieu had to answer for their early 2009 ballots against a federal compulsory-dues repeal amendment sponsored by then-Sen. Jim DeMint [R-S.C.].

“By opposing a national Right to Work law, Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu helped perpetuate federally-imposed forced union dues. This is politically risky, just as voting to expand Big Labor’s privileges is.

“As the leaders of overwhelmingly pro-Right to Work caucuses, House Speaker Paul Ryan [R-Minn.] and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] would be strategically savvy to allow recorded floor votes on forced-dues repeal legislation in their respective chambers this year.”

(Click here to download the January 2016 National Right to Work Newsletter)