Obama’s ‘Change We Can Believe In’: Paying off the unions

Barack Obama has surprised supporters and opponents alike by choosing centrists for his Cabinet. The leading exception is Labor Secretary-designate Rep. Hilda Solis, a long-time supporter of coercive unionism. Big Labor is pushing so-called card check, hoping 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.

Unions lose 40 percent of representations elections. The AFL-CIO complains that companies are blocking "workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life."

Labor activists prefer to collect sign-up cards ("card check") than conduct secret ballot elections, which means employers have little opportunity to inform workers about the costs of unionization.

Moreover, organizers can employ several forms of "persuasion" to win signatures. 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." Employees report harassing phone calls, groups of union organizers visiting workers’ homes, and threats of violence.

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."

Thus, secret ballot elections remain the ultimate defense for workers.

For this reason, union lobbyists are pushing the hilariously misnamed "Employee Free Choice Act." The AFL-CIO 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.

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. Increased labor revenues would run in the billions of dollars.

Some of that extra cash undoubtedly would go for more organization campaigns. This would move the United States even more dramatically toward economic stasis—with the United States 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. Bill Darling, the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, predicted that a Democratic presidential victory "could be an opportunity for historic change."

Big Labor’s overriding strategy is to mulct money from the rest of us. One goal is to further tilt labor law toward 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 promote unionization whenever possible. Moreover, organized labor wants to cripple the Office of Labor Management Standards, which monitors union and corruption.

Further, the modern labor movement focuses on redistribution rather than production of wealth. Organized labor favors virtually every possible tax increase, spending program, and economic intervention.

Opportunities for looting will only grow in the new bail-out state.

No wonder a recent Gallup poll found that only one-third of Americans want unions to have more influence. Even union members support secret-ballot elections by an overwhelming 84 to 11 percent.

Ironically, the best argument against the "Forced Unionization Act" comes from its supporters. For instance, labor activists believe in elections when workers are seeking to decertify unions. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court, the AFL-CIO argues that 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, lectured Mexico 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 complained that the new chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was not chosen through a secret ballot: "It is important that the integrity of the [Caucus] be unquestioned and above reproach."

Alas, President Obama backs what 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" for union support. This explains the nomination of Rep. Solis.

Union officials hope to intimidate their way to victory. The "Secret Ballot Destruction Act" would make all of us poorer.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is a member of the Economic Theory & Policy Working Group with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College and the Cobden Fellow in International Economics at the Institute for Policy Innovation.