March 2, 2007

Labor's Note Comes Due

From the editors at OpinionJournal

The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote as early as today on a bill that strips 140 million U.S. workers of the right to decide in private whether to unionize. Naturally, it's called the Employee Free Choice Act.

Big Labor has been agitating to ease union-formation requirements for more than a decade. And prior to last year's election, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and their allies made it clear to Democrats that this vote would be the most important return they expected on their investment in a Nancy Pelosi Speakership. This is payback day.

The union claim is that employers are engaging in rampant unfair labor practices to prevent employees from exercising their right to organize. But data from the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union elections, show no rise in such activities. The reality is that union membership has been in decline for decades, and labor leaders are desperate to rig the rules in order to reverse the trend. In the 1950s, 35% of private-sector workers were unionized. By the early 1980s the number had fallen to 20%, and today it stands at just 7.4%.

The reason for this decline isn't illegal management meddling in organizing efforts. The problem is that unions haven't been able to persuade the workers themselves.

Kimberly A. Strassel thinks Pelosi has blundered by pushing this unpopular bill, one that would be filibustered in the Senate, and vetoed by Bush regardless of the result there. So I guess the honeymoon is over.

Up to now, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had kept her troops in line and her party's liberal wing in check. The vaunted first "100 hours" was run like a military operation, and revolved around a carefully chosen legislative agenda that would unify every faction in her party. It was small potatoes, but it worked, and it was a lesson in how Democrats can practice smart politics.

The card check, in contrast, is a lesson in how the party's liberal base forces Democrats to back political losers. The legislation's only purpose is to give unions an unfair advantage in organizing, namely by eliminating the secret ballot in union elections and instead allowing thugs to openly bully workers into joining up. Americans understand and despise this, with polls showing 90% of the public thinks card check is a racket.

Democrats therefore left themselves wide open for their first public drubbing. The card check gave Republicans a rare opening to beat the daylights out of the new majority, successfully accusing it of trashing democratic elections and shutting down free speech. It unified the business community, which put aside its disagreements on health care and immigration to instead team up to make the vote as painful as possible for Ms. Pelosi's moderate wing. Even the liberal press jumped ship.

Posted by dan at March 2, 2007 12:08 AM