September 29, 2008

Big Labor's Payback

There are lots and lots of reasons why I won't be voting for Barack Obama, but this is a big one. And I don't even have a dog in the fight.

On March 1, 2007, the House passed their version of the Employee Free Choice Act, an Orwellian name for a piece of legislation if ever there was one. If the bill becomes law, (so far it has been successfully filibustered by Republicans) it would strip American workers of their rights to vote by secret ballot in union organizing elections, protections they have had since the Wagner Act of 1935.

Why? Because it is the price demanded by Big Labor for their support of Democrats, and in an Obama administration, it would have a much easier path to becoming the law of the land. Nancy Pelosi has already indicated that it is one of her top legislative priorities should the Democrats take back the White House.

A threatened Bush veto and congressional opposition has been enough to fight off this anti-business measure so far, but Obama supports it, and one can only imagine the official government support for community organizers in an Obama administration agitating in the labor movement, unburdened by the requirements of free elections.

Thomas Sowell on the influence of The One:

This legislation passed the House of Representatives last year but did not make it through the Senate. "I will make it the law of the land when I'm President of the United States," Barack Obama has said to the AFL-CIO.

Senator Obama has also said many times that he is against "special interests." But, like most politicians who say that, he means that he is against other politicians' special interests. His own special interests are never called special interests.

A movement finding itself unable to persuade most American workers of the advantages of unionism is desperate to rig the rules in their favor. Weren't they supposed to be all about workers rights?

This March 2007 WSJ op-ed frames the issue:

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. Our own, longstanding position is that when a company is organized it is almost always the company's fault. But workers of all classes and skills can also read the news and understand that unions no longer provide job security, if they ever did. The most heavily unionized industries--such as airlines and Detroit carmakers--are typically those that are financially beleaguered and shedding jobs. Workers know that unions often provide short-term wage gains at the cost of longer-term job insecurity.

All of which explains the drive to rewrite the rules and do away with secret-ballot elections administered by the NLRB, a procedure in place since the 1935 Wagner Act. Under current rules, once 30% of employees at a workplace express interest in unionizing by signing an authorization card, organizers can go to management and demand voluntary "card-check" recognition. The employer then has the option of recognizing the union or demanding an election.

It shouldn't be surprising that many workers who sign these cards later have second thoughts after getting the employer's side of the story. Workers sign cards for all kinds of reasons, including peer pressure and intimidation. It's not uncommon for an organizer to approach an employer with cards that show 90% of the workforce wants to unionize, only to have the percentage plummet once employees hear about the downside of a union shop and have a chance to vote by secret ballot. So Big Labor wants to dispense with these petty elections and make union recognition mandatory as soon as a simple majority of workers sign a card.

Notably, nearly every American business group is united in opposing this affront to worker freedom. They understand this will make organizing that much easier, thus making their own businesses that much less competitive. One business response would surely be to hire fewer workers--the opposite of what the unions claim to want.

Stripping away a procedure put in place 70 years ago to protect workers' privacy rights, and to guarantee their freedom from intimidation, shouldn't be arbitrarily trashed because union membership is down and they want some political payback for the money they feed to Democrats.

This thing is so far to the left that even George McGovern can't stand by and watch it happen. Surveys show that 89% of the public say these free-election protections should remain in place.

Related:

David Weigel at Reason

George Will, Washington Post; Feb., 2007

It would be hard to imagine a more anti-business (let alone anti-worker) action that a U.S. President could take. It's another reason Obama is the wrong man.

UPDATE 10/6: Human Events: Obama's Payoff to Unions

Posted by dan at September 29, 2008 11:51 PM