The political pendulum is swinging with full force towards the powerful interests who helped elect the new congressional majority. Those interests favor big government and a command and control economy. First up, the Democrat controlled Congress is using their new power to propose a bonanza of legislation to try to save big labor. If they succeed, American workers will pay the price.
For all their rhetoric about standing up for all of America’s workers, the Democrats are most interested in preserving a big player in their 1930’s era political machine. Unions certainly need their help. Today, private sector union membership has shrunk to only 7.8 percent of the labor force.
Democratic leaders have promised to bring Senator Ted Kennedy’s Employee Free Choice Act to a vote. The cornerstone of this bill is the “Card Check” provision. Under current law, employees vote by secret ballot in a government monitored election to decide if they would like to join a union and is successful in organizing in a little over half of the cases. This process is however unacceptable to union bosses.
Card Check is a top down system which does away with secret ballots. Employers would be forced to recognize a union without an election is successful with just over 50 percent of workers participating. Card Check removes privacy protections for employees. It opens the workplace to intimidation and corruption, and to say the least, is a violation of the American principle of a secret ballot.
Given their shrinking membership, labor bosses have nothing to lose and everything to gain. UNITE HERE’s Bruce Raynor, a big labor front group, told the New York Times, “There’s no reason to subject the workers to an election.” And you thought Stalin’s ideas were dead?
But why would the Democrats support such an undemocratic, un-American idea?
Just follow the money. According to the Department of Labor, union members paid $7 billion in mandatory dues in the past year. Those dues go to union salaries, strike funds, and political donations. The same Department of Labor report paints a decidedly partisan trend in union support. Of the $8,500,000 spent by the American Federation of State and County Employees, 99 percent went to Democrats, and in a similar fashion, 99 percent of the $7,200,000 given by the UAW went to Democrats as well. According to its campaign reports, the AFL-CIO has spent $8,200,000 to support Democrat leaning 527 groups. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Steelworks also gave 95 percent of all political contributions to Democrats.
In exchange for these contributions, are Congressional Democrats willing to through out the right of all workers to choose via secret ballot union or non-union leadership? It is not surprising to find that the public is in clear support of secret balloting. According to a 2006 survey by Opinion Research Corporation, 75 percent of Americans support secret ballots, and only 12 percent supported card check, with 13 percent of Americans undecided.
Card Check is the start of an uncompetitive onslaught on the American economy. Following the Employee Free Choice Act, look for Congress to expand prevailing wage laws, the legal guarantee to unions that you the taxpayer will pay more for government contracts than a comparable private sector project. Often these contracts are awarded through uncompetitive and no bid contracts and passed under ‘emergency’ legislation. Big city power politics, the dangerous mix of political machines and unions, is stepping up to the federal level.
While Card Check is an immediate threat, other side effects of pandering to unions for short term political support will be felt down the road. Politicians make expensive promises in election years for continued electoral support of public and private unions, and the public is left picking up the tab. A USA Today analysis calculated the unfunded liability of government pension obligations to state, local, and federal employees more than $27,500 per citizen. Private sector unions from the airlines, to steel, to the auto industry are already looking to federal government coffers to bail out unrealistic and unsustainable benefit packages.
Private sector union membership has dramatically declined over the past generation because our robust, highly mobile economy makes it easy for workers to defend their own economic interests. Unions have now become political and economic rent-seekers demanding special privileges at the expense of most workers and all taxpayers. Power corrupts, and nothing corrupts more than powerful special interests allied with big government.
Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, stressed that voluntary associations are preferable and more legitimate than compulsory institutions. Big unions are pushing Card Check along with an aggressive protectionist agenda at the expense of the rest of us. Reaping the benefits of this agenda will be union bureaucrats and Democratic Party coffers. The immediate casualty is worker freedom from coercion, but the long term economy will suffer from a lack of innovation, an inability to compete, and a high tax tax-big government political culture.
Matt Kibbe is the president of FreedomWorks.